- Friday, December 12, 2008 As of 10:45 PM EST
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Electoral College Meets to Begin Final Steps
The voters cast their ballots on Nov. 4 and elected Barack Obama, but that doesn't mean the 2008 election is quite over.
The next step comes Monday when the 538 members of the Electoral College meet in their state capitals and in Washington, D.C. The constitutionally prescribed date -- the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December -- falls this year on Dec. 15.
In Iowa, where the campaign began two years ago, the seven electors who will cast the final votes for Mr. Obama and Joe Biden, will meet in a conference room at the state capitol. "It will be very much in and out," said Kristin Hardt, who's organizing the meeting.
Likewise in Vermont, Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz expects to gather the state's three Obama electors in Room 10 of the statehouse for a meeting she says should last no more than 20 minutes.
At the other end of the pomp-and-circumstance scale, Pennsylvania, with 21 Obama electors, is planning a ceremony whose agenda runs to two pages and includes rehearsals on Friday and Monday. "We will have a resolution for everything," promised Secretary of State Pedro Cortes.
The Constitution allots each state as many electoral votes as it has U.S. congressmen and senators, plus three for Washington, D.C. It is those votes, of course, that actually determine the election's outcome. The Constitution doesn't say much about the Electoral College's proceedings, though, which means it is largely up to each state to decide who its electors will be and how they cast their ballots.
Ohio, with 20 Obama electors, will have a color guard and musical interlude, and New York, with 31 Obama electors, plans a three-hour ceremony. In Illinois, Mr. Obama's home state, the secretary of state plans "a really short proceeding," says spokesman Henry Haupt. "I won't use the word spartan, but there's not too much ceremony."
In North Dakota, whose three electors will cast ballots for Republicans John McCain and Sarah Palin, the winner of the state's popular vote, one elector has announced he's not coming back from vacation in Arizona. He'll be replaced by a substitute after a vote by the other two.
Some states report they are receiving requests for tickets to the proceedings, but with only limited seating in their statehouses, most are referring voters to planned Web casts. In North Dakota, no one has yet asked for tickets, said Secretary of State Al Jaeger. "I probably need to let the press know," he added. The Constitution says only that electors can't be federal officeholders, which leaves it to the political parties to decide how to choose the people who cast the decisive votes.
In many states, including Illinois (21 Obama electors) and Michigan (17 Obama votes), the parties appoint local politicians, union or business leaders and political insiders. In California (55 Obama votes), the Democratic nominee in each U.S. congressional district chooses an elector -- at least three chose relatives this year. But in Washington state (11 Obama votes), the rank and file choose Democratic electors at regional conventions. Jafar Siddiqui, a Seattle real-estate agent, says he beat out 150 competitors with a speech calling for an end to discrimination against Muslims and Arabs. Only electors representing the winner of each state's popular vote can cast electoral votes, so there's unlikely to be any surprise. But 24 states don't "bind" electors to a candidate and occasionally one goes astray.
Electors have just two chores: to cast their ballots and to sign six "Certificates of Vote" used to report the results. Governors and secretaries of state will handle the rest of the proceedings. But in Vermont, electors also will be invited to say a few words before voting. Kevin Christie, the only African American, plans to reflect on "the joy of that night" when Mr. Obama won -- even though Mr. Christie lost a statehouse race an hour earlier. He hasn't met the president-elect, but "we kind of winked at each other" at a rally in June, he said.
After Monday's signing, the certificates will be mailed to Vice President Dick Cheney as president of the Senate; the National Archives; each state's secretary of state; and the chief judge of the nearest federal court, just in case all the others are lost. That leaves two more steps in the election cycle. Mr. Cheney will open the certificates before a joint session of Congress at 1 p.m. on Jan. 6, and Mr. Obama will be sworn in at noon on Jan. 20.
And then it will be over.
Write to June Kronholz at firstname.lastname@example.org