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Congress meets to count electoral votes

The House and Senate came together in a centuries-old tradition to count the electoral votes from the election and formally declare Barack Obama the 44th president of the United States.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Barack Obama is officially the next president of the United States, Congress declared Thursday in fulfilling its centuries-old constitutional duty to certify and tally the electoral college vote from each state.

Republicans joined Democrats in a standing ovation as Vice President Dick Cheney, in his role as speaker of the Senate, announced from the podium that Obama had achieved a majority of votes and would be the 44th president on Jan. 20.

Speaking before a joint session of the House and Senate, Cheney confirmed the results of the Nov. 4 election, that Obama and next Vice President Joe Biden had received 365 electoral votes while the Republican ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin garnered 173 votes.

"Pursuant to the Constitution and laws of the United States, the Senate and House of Representatives are meeting in joint session to verify the certificates and count the votes of the electors of the several states," Cheney intoned in opening up the session.

Four "tellers," two members each from the House and Senate, then commenced reading off the votes from each state. Ironically, the first four states read in alphabetical order — Alabama, Alaska, Arizona and Arkansas — all gave their votes to McCain and Palin.

A cheer went up when the next state, California, gave its 55 votes to Obama and Biden.

Another note of levity in the otherwise formal and scripted ceremony came as teller Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pa., brought forth some laughs when he read out that the vote from Ohio, a focus of voter disputes in recent elections, "appears to be regular in form and authentic."

Cheney led a Senate delegation into the House chamber along with teenage pages carrying two mahogany boxes containing the certified vote totals of each state.

He sat on the podium next to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, carrying out what could be his last act as president of the Senate. He handed the certificates from each state's electors to the four tellers to be read off and tallied.

The reading took about 30 minutes.

At the conclusion of the state-by-state rundown, Cheney read the tally sheet and announced the results — that Obama has been elected president and Biden will succeed Cheney as vice president.

The 12th Amendment, ratified in 1804, directs the electors chosen by the states to meet and vote for president and vice president, conveying the results to the president of the Senate.

That was accomplished Dec. 15, when the electors, in a largely ceremonial rite preordained by Obama's Nov. 4 victory over McCain, gathered in state capitals to cast their votes. As on Thursday, the tally was 365 for Obama, 173 for McCain.

The electoral college is made up of 538 electors, with each state getting its equivalent in the 435-member House and the 100-member Senate. The District of Columbia gets the other three electors.

The session this year was drama-free, unlike in 2001, when then-Vice President Al Gore presided over the session that declared George W. Bush the winner over Gore in a disputed election. Gore disallowed objections from fellow Democrats who asserted that Bush had unfairly won Florida and tried to block Florida's electoral votes from being counted.