It was the night of the Nov. 6 election when President Barack Obama was declared the winner of a second term, but it’s the votes of 538 people in 51 locales today that are really deciding the outcome.
The Electoral College process of electing presidents calls for these 538 electors — usually political activists selected by the state political parties — to meet today in state capitals and the District of Columbia to cast votes for president in accordance with the popular vote outcome.
Obama is projected to receive 332 electoral votes, or 62 more than the 270-vote majority required for victory, after winning the popular vote in 26 states and D.C. Republican challenger Mitt Romney should receive 206 votes after carrying 24 states.
We couch our phrasing because occasionally, a wayward elector hasn’t voted for the presidential candidate to whom he or she was pledged.
In 2004, a Minnesota elector for Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry voted instead for Kerry’s running mate, John Edwards. In 2000, one of three Democratic electors for the District of Columbia withheld her vote to protest the national capital’s lack of voting representation in Congress. In 1988, a West Virginia elector for Democratic presidential nominee Michael S. Dukakis voted instead for the party’s vice-presidential nominee, Lloyd Bentsen.
Some states have laws that direct electors to back the popular-vote winner, though there’s no federal law or constitutional provision that addresses so-called faithless electors.
The electors will record their votes today on six pairs of certificates. One set goes to Vice President Joe Biden, who serves as president of the Senate. In that capacity, Biden will get to announce his and Obama’s re-election before a joint session of Congress next month that will count the electoral votes.