WASHINGTON – A joint session of Congress resumed meeting Thursday evening and quickly finalized certification of President Bush's (search) 286 Electoral College votes to Democrat John Kerry's (search) 251. A candidate needs 270 votes to win the presidential election.
Kerry running mate John Edwards received one Electoral vote.
The certification was delayed for several hours after Sen. Barbara Boxer (search), D-Calif., and Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (search), D-Ohio, stopped the formal declaration of Bush's second term to protest voting irregularities.
The joint session had met earlier in the day but quickly recessed per congressional rules to go to their respective chambers to debate certification. The Senate voted 74-1 and the House 267-31 to reject an objection to the certification of Ohio's 20 Electoral College votes.
"I raise this objection neither to put the nation in a turmoil of proposed overturn election," Jones said in the House after stopping the count. "I raised this objection because I am convinced that we as a body must conduct a formal" debate and "protect the integrity of the true will of the people."
Boxer said on the floor of the Senate that she joined with Jones to "shed some light" about the issues of reported voting irregularities in Ohio as well as election reform throughout the nation.
The California Democrat said that even though the last Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (search), lawmakers had not done enough to examine voting problems.
Boxer said, "The centerpiece of this country is democracy and the centerpiece of democracy is ensuring the right to vote."
"Our people are dying all over the world ... to bring democracy to the far corners of the world," she said. "Let's fix it here."
Twenty-five senators and 136 representatives did not vote on Thursday's action, the first of its kind in 36 years.
The debates lasted two hours and the vote took additional time, but ultimately the results only managed to delay the inevitable. No other objections were expected and Congress was expected to wrap up certification quickly.
Boxer decided late Wednesday that she would challenge the results of Ohio's Electoral College votes for Bush. She sent a letter to Jones saying she was "moved" by Jones' concerns about reported election irregularities in the decisive swing state.
"I have concluded that objecting to the electoral votes from Ohio is the only immediate way to bring these issues to light by allowing you to have a two-hour debate to let the American people know the facts surrounding Ohio's election," Boxer said in the letter.
Read the letter by clicking here.
Earlier on Thursday, Boxer and Jones held a news conference and acknowledged they are not expecting to overturn the November election results. But they stressed the need to have a debate on voting irregularities, which they suggested would not happen if it weren't for this formal challenge. Boxer characterized the objection as "the first round in the battle for electoral justice."
Boxer also said she regrets that she didn't object to the certification four years ago when the controversial election put Bush over Al Gore.
"Yes, I think there are people who wish we didn't do it, but we're doing it for the right reasons," she said, adding that she was also going to introduce with her House colleagues legislation to standardize elections nationally.
Jones added that she couldn't let the election go without assuring democracy applies to everyone in the United States.
"I can't let it go because there are people in my congressional district, there are people in this country who said, 'Stephanie, I did not get my vote counted. My vote did not count. I was denied the opportunity to vote.'"
Vice President Dick Cheney (search) led the effort to read off electoral votes won by both Bush and Massachusetts senator Kerry.
The "certificates of vote" from each state were called out and the number of votes designated for president and vice president were reported on four separate paper tallies.
At the end of the reading of all 50 states and the District of Columbia's votes, the four tellers responsible for recording the tallies were expected to compare results and sign off on them. Cheney then is supposed to announce the totals and order them into the record. Afterward, the House and Senate adjourned until after the president's inauguration on Jan. 20.
This is not the first objection to certification for President Bush. In 2001, more than two-dozen Democrats objected to the certification of Florida's disputed election, but because no senator objected, as is required to trigger a recess of the joint session, the objection was ignored.
Republicans from Ohio were not pleased by the Democrats' objection. Rep. Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio, called the challenge an effort by "certain extreme elements of Senator Kerry's own party" to mock an election that Kerry himself conceded.
"Their intention in this whole process is merely … to undermine public confidence in the electoral system itself," Pryce said. Challenges are "no more than another exercise in their party's primary goal to obstruct, to divide and destroy."
Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, said charges made about Ohio’s election are “wild, incoherent and completely unsubstantiated. He delivered a statement on the Senate floor saying he found it "almost impossible to believe" that the Senate was debating the matter when the official results showed that Bush won his state with more 118,000 votes.
Added House Majority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri: "Every time we doubt the process, we cast doubt on that fabric of democracy that's so important ... people do need to have confidence that the process works."
Boxer and several other senators had been approached by House Democrats to launch the corresponding objection from the Senate that would force the recess of the joint session.
According to informed sources, House Democrats also approached newly-elected Illinois Sen. Barack Obama (search) to join the objection. He declined.
In his first speech on the Senate floor, Obama said that while he is "absolutely convinced" Bush won the election he recognized the importance of debating the certification.
"We have an obligation to fix the problems" of voting in the United States, he said.
Kerry, who lost the election to Bush and is currently overseas, said in a letter sent to supporters Wednesday he would not take part in a formal protest of the Ohio Electors because, despite widespread reports of voting irregularities, his legal team had "found no evidence that would change the outcome of the election."
Kerry said he planned to introduce election-reform legislation and push for congressional hearings on the voting irregularities.
Read Kerry's letter by clicking here.
Asked about the political wisdom of deciding to join House members in contesting the results, an aide to Boxer told FOX News, "These are credible folks in the House who say there are real problems out there. They need to shine the light on this. So they made an appeal to the senator for the right to shine the light on it.
"There are folks who think this is a not a fruitful exercise, because even [if] the results are challenged, it still may not change the outcome," the aide added, "but for two hours, this might at least be worth discussing."
FOX News' Carl Cameron, Julie Asher and Jim Mills contributed to this report.