Could this be the year Congress picks the President?

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Two-hundred seventy Electoral College votes – that’s the magic number that the presidential candidates will be shooting for in November’s general election; but could this be the year that no candidate reaches that mark and instead Congress decides who will become the next President? That could happen, but only in the rare event that there’s a tie at 269 votes or if three or more candidates split the Electoral College vote.

Listen to the full story here:

WMNF News interviewed Aubrey Jewett, a professor of political science at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

“Some Republicans, particularly conservatives, who are not comfortable at all with Donald Trump have suggested that maybe they would run someone independently. …”

But Jewett says that conservative or Libertarian candidates aren’t the only ones who could trim some Electoral College votes away from the two major parties. Some members of the “#BernieOrBust” movement want Senator Sanders to run as an independent or on the Green Party ticket if he loses the Democratic nomination to Hillary Clinton.

The House of Representatives would then choose the President if there’s no Electoral College majority.

“What happens then is that the Presidential contest is decided by the House of Representatives. Each state gets one vote and it’s the top three candidates. And the one that wins, wins.”

University of South Florida political scientist Susan MacManus says then each Senator would vote for Vice President from the top two candidates. That could result in a President and Vice President being from different parties.

But it gets even stranger. It won’t even be the current members of Congress who vote for President and Vice President next January 6. It would be the new Congress including newly elected Senators and Representatives, who had been sworn in just three days earlier on January 3.

“See, that’s the other dimension. That could change because let’s say that the House (of Representatives), that the Democrats did win back a majority of the seats. There are some who say it’s possible – I don’t know that I agree – but it’s not out of the realm of reality. (Certainly not the Senate.)  So you can’t count on the fact that it would just be Republicans. Right now, yes. But maybe not.”

As it stands now in the House, far more than half the states have a majority of Republican representatives. In the Senate, there are 54 Republicans, two independents and 44 Democrats. But the numbers could be different after November’s elections when, for example, Republican Marco Rubio will no longer represent Florida in the Senate. Aubrey Jewett, the UCF political scientist we heard from earlier, says it would take historically rare events in order to get to the situation where the presidential election is so close that Congress will decide.

Adding to the uncertainty of an outright Electoral College victory by one of the two major parties in November is the fact that, while most states are winner-take-all, two assign Electoral College votes proportionally. So a minor-party or independent candidate could pick up Electoral College votes in Maine or Nebraska without winning the entire state.


  • toto

    Maine and Nebraska do not use a proportional system.

    Maine (since enacting a state law in 1969) and Nebraska (since enacting a state law in 1992) have awarded one electoral vote to the winner of each congressional district, and two electoral votes statewide.

    Obama won 1 congressional district in Nebraska in 2008, the only state in the past century that has split its electoral votes between presidential candidates from two different parties.

    • Seán Kinane

      True. That’s proportional. Here’s a quote I didn’t use in the story, from MacManus: “Because
      there’s a couple of states that are proportionally decided; electoral votes are
      given out on the basis of – it’s not winner take all – but by Congressional
      district, proportionally. There’s two states that have it like that.” Thanks for your comment. -Sean

      • toto

        No. That’s not proportional in any mathematical sense of the word. Using their system, only 1 vote in either state has ever been won by the minority party candidate. Not being winner-take-all does not equal being proportional.