Posted on January 5, 2013
WASHINGTON — It was just a constitutional formality, the outcome never really in doubt.
But with a flourish of historical pomp and pageantry, electoral votes for president and vice president were carried Friday in mahogany boxes onto the floor of the U.S. House, where the envelopes were unsealed, the results certified and the tallies from each state read aloud one by one.
"The certificate of the electoral vote from the State of Tennessee seems to be regular in form, and authentic," announced U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., one of four lawmakers given the task of counting the votes during a joint session of the House and Senate.
In just half an hour, the ceremony was over and the official tally confirmed what Americans have known for weeks: President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden won 332 electoral votes, more than the 270 needed to win a second term. Republican Mitt Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, received 206.
"This is a constitutional duty," Alexander said, summing up the quadrennial vote-counting ritual required under the 12th Amendment.
Alexander landed a starring role in the historical exercise because he is the top Republican on the Senate Rules Committee, which oversees the procedures for conducting the business of the Senate.
Alexander's position on the panel also netted him a seat on the joint congressional committee that is planning the presidential inaugural on Jan. 21. He and other members of the inaugural committee will meet Obama at the White House, escort him to the Capitol for the swearing-ceremony and then accompany him to the parade viewing stand.
"Inaugurations of our presidents are among the few moments in history that almost all of us remember," Alexander said. "It's important for our country because it's the transfer or the reaffirmation of immense power. We do it in a few minutes in a public ceremony that the public watches. We take for granted often that in many other countries in the world, there has been a coup or there is violence or there is a king or some other transition of power. Ours is peaceful."
Alexander, who twice ran for president himself, supported Romney over Obama in the Nov. 6 election, which seemingly could have made things a bit awkward during Friday's electoral vote count. But Alexander said it wasn't awkward at all.
"It's an honor to be a part of such an important tradition in our country," he said. "I respect the tradition whether or not I agree with the results of the election."
Without fail, almost every presidential election is followed by calls to abandon the Electoral College and switch to the direct election of the president and vice president. But Alexander isn't among those who think the Electoral College should go.
"There are a lot of decisions that the Founding Fathers made that created the kind of country we have, and this is one of them," he said. "It may seem old-fashioned, but it was the bargain that was made in the beginning. The Electoral College is one of the protections that are built into the system to protect smaller states and minority views. There was a reason it was created, and I don't believe we should change it."