Every four years, the citizens of the United States of America prepare for the November elections. They vote by ballot box and choose who will become the next President.
The Founding Fathers set up a system of voting that became known as the electoral college. Each state is given a certain amount of points (if you will) based on population and whichever candidate succeeds in getting a majority of points in the electoral college wins the presidential election and is sworn in two months later in January.
Ever since its creation, the electoral college has had its detractors.
The most modern criticism came to the forefront in the 2000 election when former Texas Governor Republican George W. Bush took on Vice President Democrat Al Gore in a match-up which saw Bush win the majority in the electoral college while Gore won the popular vote.
It is an imperfect system, but it was set-up to guarantee certain cities or regions would not be able to control the elections with their population. However, what would happen should the electoral college fail to give us a president. The Founding Fathers gave us a Plan B.
According to the Twelfth Amendment to the United States Constitution, as adopted in 1804, should any of the candidates fail to reach a majority of electoral college votes,
“…and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice.”
To put plainly, the House of Representatives chooses the winner of the presidential election should no one win or get a large enough majority.
You might ask, why did they not suggest a run-off? Why do politicians in Washington, DC get decide the election that is supposedly led by the will of the people. At the time, a Congressional vote actually made a lot of sense. Communication did not travel as fast as it does today. A run-off election would have seemed very difficult to achieve especially with sometimes vast pre-statehood territories in between the states. Having the House of Representatives, the house of Congress supposedly on the side of the people (as Senators were elected by state legislatures at the time), choose the next president seemed to make sense. They even included a stop gap measure should the House fail to choose a president.
However, as the world became more and more modern, this Plan B began to seem more and more outdated. Congress having the power to chose the next president soured with many.
In the election of 1824, presidential candidate Andrew Jackson squared off against four major opponents, John Quincy Adams, William Crawford, and Henry Clay. Though Jackson won both the popular vote and the electoral college, the vote was split enough to force a Congressional vote.
Clay, then Speaker of the House, hated Jackson and therefore persuaded Congress to vote for Quincy Adams, the son of Founding Father and second President John Adams. Quincy Adams would later appoint Clay as Secretary of State.
Andrew Jackson decried the event as a “corrupt bargain” and virtually campaigned on it for the next four years. He would create a splinter party which would become the modern Democrat Party and would get elected President in 1828.
Though this has not happened since the election of 1824, it stands to reason with each election becoming more and more divisive and increasingly volatile, another corrupt bargain could decide the fate of another future potential president.
With modern technology, the need to reach a vast number of citizens at one time has become simpler and less complicated. Should a run-off election be considered if a candidate fails to reach the electoral majority? Possibly, but run-off elections are historically tricky. Voter turn out is usually low and it begs the question would it require us to recount the electoral college for a second time? If history is any indication, the American people seem to loose patience with recounts.
A more practical answer would be to rely on the popular vote. It makes sense that should the presidential candidates fail to reach a majority in the electoral college, allow the popular vote to decide.
I know that one of the criticisms of this idea is that it allows for “mob rule.” I do not think this is a fair critique. The voters who actually show up to polling stations should not be labeled a mob. They have actually done their civic duty and that should be acknowledged.
Another hurdle is it would require a change in the Constitution, another feat that has not been achieved since 1992 with the passage of the 27th Amendment. That being said, however, this kind of change would allow for the vote of the people to at least be recognized and it would be simple with a less chance for corruption or backroom deals.
As Congress falls more and more out of favor with the American people, a change to the popular vote for Plan B makes sense in the event the electoral college fails to give us a president.