In a recent report originating from The Hill, concerns have arisen regarding the possibility of a contingent presidential election in the United States, a scenario where no candidate secures the required majority of electoral votes (270 out of 538). In such an event, Congress would step in to determine the next President and Vice President, raising eyebrows given the recent tumultuous political climate and lack of trust in some lawmakers.
The article opens with a sense of trepidation, highlighting the unease about entrusting such a monumental decision to the 535 members of Congress, who often find themselves at the center of partisan gridlock, government shutdowns, and soaring national debt. The memory of January 6, 2021, looms large in the minds of many, where some legislators refused to recognize the electoral slates of certain states, leading to a violent riot at the U.S. Capitol.
The likelihood of a contingent election, while historically rare, is on the rise. Landslide victories, like those seen in the past (Reagan vs. Mondale in 1984 or Nixon vs. McGovern in 1972), have become increasingly scarce. In four of the last six presidential elections, the contests were remarkably close. The 2020 election came down to a mere 44,000 votes in Georgia, Arizona, and Wisconsin; a slight shift could have resulted in a tied election with 269 electoral votes for each candidate.
Looking ahead to the 2024 election, the chances of a contingent election may escalate further due to the involvement of a third-party ticket backed by No Labels, an organization dedicated to bipartisan problem-solving. Whether they choose Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu (R), or other non-traditional figures to run, No Labels is a credible organization with a track record of fundraising and political influence. They have already secured a place for their “unity” ticket on the 2024 ballot in 11 states, tapping into a growing public demand for alternatives to a Biden-Trump rematch.
However, the prospect of a third-party run brings its own set of concerns. It seems unlikely that No Labels would secure 270 electoral votes, as many Americans remain entrenched in their allegiance to either major party. This would necessitate Congress stepping in to decide the next President and Vice President, a process that lacks clear legislative guidance.
The 12th Amendment provides only broad procedural directives for this scenario, leaving significant room for mischief and political maneuvering. The article raises concerns about various possible scenarios, such as a partisan majority in the House selecting its Speaker and delaying the decision on the President until after January 20, potentially allowing the Speaker to become President. Alternatively, a determined minority could obstruct the House from choosing a Speaker, further complicating the process. The Senate’s role in selecting the Vice President also adds complexity, with the potential for partisan tactics or power grabs.
Regardless of the outcome of such legislative maneuvering, a significant portion of voters would likely feel disenfranchised by the fact that elected officials, rather than the electorate, decided the next President and Vice President.
The Protect Democracy report, which highlights these concerns, does not necessarily advocate for No Labels to abandon its presidential campaign plans. Instead, it underscores the urgency of addressing the process for a contingent election. The author suggests that Congress should pass a statute to clarify the procedures each chamber should follow in the event of such an election. However, with time running short and partisan divisions deepening, achieving bipartisan cooperation on such a critical issue becomes increasingly challenging.
The article concludes with a sobering reminder of the need for action, recalling previous warnings about the Electoral Count Act and the dangers of inaction. The events of January 6, 2021, serve as a stark reminder of the consequences of failing to address electoral uncertainties. As the 2024 presidential race looms, the hope remains that history will not repeat itself, and steps will be taken to ensure a smoother and more transparent election process.
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