I find US politics fascinating, although I’m sure part of the reason for this is because I am comfortably tucked across the other side of the Atlantic and do not have to live with the daily consequences.
I want to present a scenario that is not entirely beyond the realms of possibility, and it could lead to chaos and confusion the likes of which will not have been seen in the US for generations. The stuff of true nightmares, no matter which candidate you support. A perfect tie in the Electoral College.
There are less than two months to go until the US goes to the polls to decide whether to give President Donald Trump another four years in the White House or to replace him with Former Vice President Joe Biden.
Polling in crucial swing states as well as nationally has mainly benefitted Biden thus far, but we have seen some tightening in recent weeks, especially after the party conventions. The quirks of the US electoral college system, where one candidate must reach 270 electoral votes to win, has a fundamental flaw built into it. There are only 538 electoral college votes up for grabs, and with a “winner takes all” system within most states it is possible to have a perfect tie 269-269. Just imagine the following scenario:
It’s 2 am on the East Coast on Wednesday, November 4th, 2020. The election results have been coming in from across the country and it is an extraordinarily close race. The swing states have been largely shared between the two candidates.
Of the competitive states, Trump has won Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin. On the other hand, Biden has prevailed in Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Nevada, and Pennsylvania. As expected, Trump has won a single electoral vote in Maine.
All of these results have taken several days to be confirmed since a large percentage of ballots have been cast by mail due to the pandemic.
If this happens, the election is a perfect tie and despite the fact Biden has won the national popular vote by more than 3 million, Trump and Biden both have 269 electoral college votes.
So what happens next? It’s a sure bet that very few people will have the slightest idea, so it’s worth going through the possible scenario.
In the case of a tie vote, the presidential contest is to be decided in the House of Representatives under a very odd system in which the House votes by state delegations. Under the 12th Amendment, a candidate must win a majority (at least 26) of the states.
So, even though the Democrats hold a comfortable majority of seats in the House of Representatives, under the current partisan make-up of Congress, 26 House state delegations are controlled by the Republicans, 23 by Democrats, and one is tied. In a tied presidential election, it is likely, but not certain, that Republicans would retain a majority of the state congressional delegations.
To make matters even more mind-bendingly complicated, imagine a shift of House delegations through November’s election which leaves the House deadlocked at 25 votes for each candidate. Under the 12th Amendment to the Constitution, in the case of an Electoral College tie for the vice-presidency, the Senate chooses the vice president. It is distinctly possible that the new Senate could be made up of 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans at which point the vice-presidential vote would also be deadlocked.
If both the House and the Senate deadlock, then the Presidential Succession Act is invoked and the Speaker of the House, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, becomes the acting president.
She would remain president for as long as it takes the House and Senate to resolve their deadlocks. A true constitutional crisis would ensue, and while it would make a great TV movie one day, it would be a true nightmare to live through.
I can’t imagine Trump relinquishing the powers of the presidency without a hell of a fight, especially in this scenario.
As unlikely as this seems, it certainly is not impossible, but lets just back up here a bit.
If there is an electoral college tie, yet Biden has racked up huge majorities in populous states such as New York and California, would all of the people holding their obscure elector positions in fact cast their votes the way their states have told them to? Or would one or more of them try to play kingmaker?
Surely, in this case, some common sense would prevail and they would award their states electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote.
If the presidential election does go to the House, then Congress must take the high road and make a decision that reflects the national interest over the considerations of their party. In this scenario, it must be to award the presidency to Joe Biden and eliminate the outrageously complex Electoral College system and replace it with a system that is much easier to understand and gives all Americans a vote of equal importance.
Words by Richard Hansen
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