ST. PAUL, Minn. — Tradition trumped suspense Monday as members of the Electoral College cast the official, final votes in the 2012 presidential election, a constitutional formality on President Barack Obama's march to a second term.
The rite playing in state capitols involved party luminaries and tireless activists carrying out the will of each state's voters. The popular vote from state-to-state dictates whether Democratic or Republican electors get the honor, but the outcome wasn't in doubt. Obama had well more than the 270 votes required to win the White House.
Obama was on course to get 332 votes to Republican Mitt Romney's 206, barring defectors known as "faithless electors." California's 55 electoral votes — the largest cache in any state — helped put the Democratic president over the top by late Monday afternoon. Electors also were affirming Joe Biden for another term as vice president.
"Everybody votes for president, but nobody gets a real vote except a presidential elector," said elector Mike Bohan of Oregon, which was in Obama's column.
Ceremonies around the country had their share of pomp and electors in red, white and blue ties. Wisconsin's electors donned pin-on buttons with headshots of the president. A bit of controversy erupted in Arizona, where a few electors voiced doubts that Obama was "properly vetted as a legitimate candidate for president" by raising debunked claims about his birth certificate.
In New Hampshire, electors supporting Obama signed their four ballots and then certificates that were sealed in envelopes with wax that has been in the secretary of state's office for more than 70 years.
"It's been a long haul for all of us," said state Secretary of State Bill Gardner, alluding to New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary that sparked intense campaigning there for more than a year.
Colorado elector Anthony Graves called his votes for Obama and Biden "one of the great honors of my life."
In a rotunda decked out for the holidays, Minnesota's 10 electors called out the name "Barack Obama" one after another in an exercise meant to avoid a miscue that left the state with an accidental faithless elector in 2004. Former legislator Al Patton, who was also an elector four years ago, acknowledged the historical magnitude was less than in 2008 when Obama was elected the nation's first black president. But Patton said he was still honored to be involved.
Vermont's meeting of three electors was witnessed by a fifth-grade class.
"It was an amazing teachable opportunity," said Cindy Tan, a teacher at Chamberlin School in South Burlington. "It only happens every four years."
Connecticut's electors convened in the state Senate chamber and solemnly remembered the victims of last week's school shooting before carrying out their task.
In Mississippi, which Romney carried comfortably, six men chosen earlier as electors met in a small committee room in the state Capitol and cast their votes for the GOP candidate. Well aware they were doing so in a lost cause, they opted for humor. The state's Republican governor, Phil Bryant, joked that Billy Mounger, an 86-year-old elector, probably wished to vote for Calvin Coolidge, a renowned small-government conservative president in the 1920s.
"I'd like to have Coolidge back," said Mounger, a Jackson businessman.
Next door in Alabama, Republicans were still bothered by the election outcome.
"I'm proud of our state. I think we got it right," said Romney elector Terry Lathan of Mobile. "I'm sad for our country."
Dissatisfaction was evident in Arkansas as well, where six votes were awarded to Romney.
"I would rather be here casting my vote for the next president of the United States, but Arkansas did all it could do to see that through and I'm proud to cast my vote as Arkansans wanted it cast," said state GOP Chairman Doyle Webb, one of the electors.
The certified tally sheets are on their way to Washington, where Congress will officially count them on Jan. 6. Obama is to be sworn in a couple of weeks later.
The 12th Amendment directs the electors chosen by the states to meet and vote for president and vice president. Each state gets its equivalent in the 435-member House and the 100-member Senate. The District of Columbia gets the other three electors.
With the Electoral College in focus, advocates for revamping the current system seized on the chance to argue for a change guaranteeing the national popular vote winner is elected president. The compact among states would award future electoral votes to the national vote leader regardless of how candidates perform in a particular state. The shift has been approved in nine places and is pending in many others, but it won't take effect unless states possessing a majority of electoral votes ratify it.
Minnesota Rep. Pat Garofalo, a Republican, said an increasingly shrinking electoral college map has lavished candidate attention on a select few states while most are mere spectators.Comment on this story
"The rest of the country gets hosed," he said, adding, "The most important principle here is the candidate who gets the most votes should win and every vote should be equal."
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Jonathan Cooper in Salem, Ore.; Andrew DeMillo in Little Rock, Ark.; Ivan Moreno in Denver; Paul Davenport in Phoenix; Susan Haigh in Hartford, Conn.; Todd Richmond in Madison, Wis.; Holly Ramer in Concord, N.H.; Philip Rawls in Montgomery, Ala.; Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Miss.; Lisa Rathke in Montpelier, Vt.