Déjà Vu: The Elections of 2016 and 1824
By Dr. Stephen Schwalbe
Faculty Member, Public Administration at American Public University
On November 8, 2016, America will vote to elect its next president. Currently, there are two primary candidates and three third-party candidates running. These presidential hopefuls are Hillary Clinton (Democrat), Donald Trump (Republican), Gary Johnson (Libertarian), Jill Stein (Green) and Darrell Castle (Constitution).
With the Electoral College, one of these candidates needs 270 electoral votes to win the election. Poll numbers show that Clinton and Trump are virtually tied (within the polling margin of error). The third-party candidates may also impact the election’s outcome by taking votes away from the Democratic and Republican candidates.
What if no presidential candidate acquires the necessary 270 votes to win in this election? What will happen then?
By Law, Congress Could Choose Next President and Vice President
According to the 12th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the House of Representatives would select the next president and the Senate would select the next vice president. Each state has only one vote in both chambers.
[Related: Is it Time to Retire the Electoral College?]
The House can only consider the top three candidates receiving electoral votes, while the Senate can only consider the top two candidates. If the House vote ends up tied (i.e., 25-25), then the Amendment states that the vice president selected by the Senate would become president. (There are no provisions if both chambers’ votes end in a tie.)
1824 Presidential Election Forced Congress to Select A President and Vice President
For the presidential election of 1824, no candidate achieved the minimum number of electoral votes (131 at the time). As a result, the House of Representatives made the decision on who the president would be.
In the 1824 election, Andrew Jackson won both the popular and electoral vote. However, that did not matter in the House’s decision. Instead, the House selected John Q. Adams of Massachusetts to become the next president; Adams came in second in both the popular and electoral vote.
Who Will Congress Choose as Next President?
For the current presidential election, Clinton may acquire the most electoral and popular votes. However, it is possible that she may not receive the 270 electoral votes required to win the election.
The House currently has a Republican Party majority, and it is likely to maintain this majority after the election. As the Republican Party candidate, Trump would likely be selected as president, much as Adams was almost 200 years ago.
Coincidentally, Jackson was a member of the future Democratic Party. Adams was a member of the National Republican Party.
If the House vote was tied (25-25) for some reason, then the Senate would select the president from either Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, the Democratic candidate, or Indiana Governor Mike Pence, the Republican candidate. The Senate may revert to the Democrats in this election.
If this situation came to pass, the Electoral College system would once again be the topic of national discussion. Many Americans already do not like the College because it does not allow for a popular vote for president, which happened in the 2000 presidential election. If Congress ended up selecting the next president and vice president, then that would probably cause a successful movement to replace the 12th Amendment, eliminating the Electoral College.
About the Author
Dr. Stephen Schwalbe is an associate professor at American Public University. He is also an adjunct professor at Columbia College and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Stephen received a Ph.D. in Public Administration and Public Policy from Auburn University in 2006. His book about military base closures was published in 2009.
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