What happens if no presidential candidate gets 270 Electoral votes in the 2020 U.S. Presidential elections? Is this even possible? Well, yes, it is. The U.S. is horribly divided. Half the people hate Trump, and the other half fear socialism and the onslaught of far-left politics. This leaves the door open for a compromise candidate in an independent third-party run for the presidency.
Over the years, there have been many attempts at a third-party run. None have succeeded. The last third-party candidate to get any Electoral College votes we George Wallace in 1968 – he got 46 votes. If a third-party candidate could get even a small amount of the Electoral College votes, and no other party gets 270 Electoral College votes, we have an interesting situation. Remember Trump in the 2016 election only got 302 Electoral College votes. And many of the states Trump won were by very slim margins. News Forecasters asks, what is the pathway for a potential third-part candidate presidential win in 2020 and how likely is it to happen?
If no candidate receives a majority of Electoral votes, the House of Representatives elects the President from the three Presidential candidates who received the most Electoral votes. Each state delegation has one vote in a Contingent election (i.e., each state’s House delegation would caucus to determine who gets that one vote). The Senate would elect the Vice President from the 2 Vice Presidential candidates with the most Electoral votes. Each Senator would cast one vote for Vice President (a tie broke by the current Vice President). If the House of Representatives fails to elect a President by Inauguration Day, the Vice-President Elect serves as acting President until the deadlock is resolved in the House.
In this Contingent election inside the House, it is assumed that each state would caucus toward the selection of the candidate that represented their own party if being in the majority. That being said, there are five states that have a split in party affiliation and may not come to a consensus without opting for a compromise candidate. In addition, these states were considered Republican in the 2016 election. The following are these five states:
- The Pennsylvania delegation has 18 members, with 9 Republicans and 9 Democrats.
- The Florida delegation has a total of 27 members, including 13 Democrats and 14 Republicans.
- The Michigan delegation has a total of 14 members, with 7 Democrats, 6 Republicans, and 1 Independent.
- The Arizona delegation has a total of 9 members, with 5 Democrats and 4 Republicans.
- The Iowa delegation has a total of 4 members, with 2 Democrats and 2 Republicans.
From the 2016 electoral map, there were 30 Republican and 20 Democratic state-dominated delegations – giving the advantage to the Republicans. However, there is nothing that binds a state delegation to vote for any specific candidate and could vote for any of the three candidates from this process. Given there are five states that are split in party affiliation, and both parties today have internal spits, a compromise candidate could emerge.
Only two Presidential elections (1800 and 1824) have been decided in the House to date. After the first occurrence of this, the 12th amendment to the constitution was made to clarify the processes. Perhaps after the 2020 election, this issue may again be revisited – let’s hope not. Some have called for the total abolition of the entire Electoral College process – another issue for another article.
In 1800 Jefferson and Aaron Burr, the Republican candidates for President and Vice President, tied at 73 electoral ballots each. The House, under the Constitution, then chose between Jefferson and Burr for President. The Constitution mandates that House Members vote as a state delegation and that the winner must obtain a simple majority of the states. The House deadlocked at eight states for Jefferson, six for Burr, and two tied. After six days of debate and 36 ballots, Jefferson won 10 state delegations in the House when the Burr supporters in the two tied states (Vermont and Maryland) filed blank ballots rather than support Jefferson.
Since the 12th Amendment, one other presidential election has come to the House. In 1824, Andrew Jackson of Tennessee won a plurality of the national popular vote and 99 votes in the Electoral College – 32 short of a majority. John Quincy Adams was runner-up with 85, and Treasury Secretary William Crawford had 41. Speaker of the House Henry Clay had 37 and expected to use his influence in the House to win the election. But the 12th Amendment required the House to consider only the top-three vote-getters when no one commands an overall majority. The House chose Adams over Jackson.
Getting back to the possibilities of a House decided presidential election. Here is a simple scenario where this could happen:
- Trump loses Florida to the Democrats – Trump’s lead is cut to just four Electoral College votes.
- A third-party candidate campaigns hard in one (or a small subset) of the 2016 Trump won battleground states (Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and/or Arizona). All this candidate would need to do in this scenario is to win just one state.
- We have now a House decided presidential election.
This is just one scenario, but there are many possibilities. Here is a tool where you can make up your own Electoral College map and come up with a variety of scenarios where Trump does not get the necessary 270 votes required to win.
Moving on to the House Contingent election, the Democrats know they are at a disadvantage (as explained before). If their candidate is a far left-wing candidate (Sanders or Warren) is not so desirable and the third-party candidate is more acceptable, they might make a play to go for the compromise candidate, as well as the five split party-state delegations (as defined before). In addition, there are a number of never-Trump folks ready to vote against Trump. The alternative would be a Trump win. It may boil down to just who the third-party candidate is.
Under this scenario, the Vice President would be Mike Pence – the Senate being dominated by Republicans makes this an easy vote. This means the running mate VP for the third-party candidate is a placeholder that in a sense would be the sacrificial lamb, who could be offered a cabinet post for their efforts. This VP placeholder candidate would need to be someone that could energize a female/minority voting base in these battleground states – no worries that they would ever become VP or the president – and voters would know it. A couple of ideas here would be – Michelle Obama, Stacey Abrams, or a Tulsi Gabbard to name a few.
The final piece to this puzzle would be to understand just who could be this third-party presidential candidate? The candidate would need to be reasonably well known, wealthy (or have good access to a wealthy donor base), appeal to the political spectrum between the center-right (never-Trumpers) to the center-left, and could play well among House Democrats (the current majority of House members). A couple of serious ideas here would be – John Kasich, Michael Bloomberg, Bob Iger, Mark Cuban, just to name a few. Ok, I will say it, even a potential Hillary candidacy.
Well there you have it, Hillary and Stacey third-party presidential winners in 2020, though Mike Pence will be the VP. Stacy can be the next Secretary of State and build her political credibility for later. There are obviously other possible scenarios. News Forecasters ask what is the likelihood of all this Electoral College tomfoolery happening? We would give it at this point a 5% chance. It all will depend on the players.
A video presentation of this subject: