Tuesday, September 16, 2008

McCain/Biden? Acting President Biden?


Looking at the Real Clear Politics electoral map that currently has Obama with a 273-265 vote lead over McCain, an interesting scenario came to mind.

Suppose the swing state of New Hampshire swung to McCain Palin, and all other states remained the same. That would create a 269-269 tie. That would throw the election to the Congress, providing that both campaigns were unable to steal an electoral vote from the other side before the actual votes were cast.

Such things have happened before. The constitution of the United States provides a system to elect a President and Vice President if no candidate receives a majority of the votes. It has happened twice. The first time such happened was in 1800. Thomas Jefferson, and his running mate, Aaron Burr, received the same number of electoral votes, forcing the House to decide the matter for Jefferson, and resulting in a reform amendment pertaining to the election of President and Vice President.

After that reform amendment to the constitution, the issue again arose in 1824, when no candidate had a majority of electoral votes. Despite the fact that Andrew Jackson had won the popular vote at the time, the House of Representatives, voting not as individual members, but as state delegations, narrowly elected John Quincy Adams. South Carolina's John C. Calhoun was elected by the Senate to be Vice President. Calhoun would later be elected Vice President with Jackson in 1828, making Calhoun the only Vice President to serve under presidents of two different parties.

Such a thing might seem absurd in today's politics until you look at how the process could unfold in a tie. Though the Republicans are in the minority in the House, and likely will remain so after November, they have control over more state delegations, and will likely maintain that control. In that case, McCain would win a House vote with a 26-24 or 27-23 vote. The Senate is controlled by the Democrats, and they vote as members for the Vice President in such a scenario. In that case, Biden would be elected Vice-President.

If the House voted 24-24-2 or something like that, then another provision would come into play. If no President-elect could qualify than the Vice-President-elect would act as President until Congress could resolve the matter. In that case, it is likely Joe Biden would become the Acting President of the United States on January 20th, 2009.

I realize such scenarios as above are unlikely. But, they have happened. Indeed, as recent as 1877, Congress looked at its options as there was no legitimate winner declared between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden. Congress had more time back then, for the President elected in November did not take office until March 4th. Yet, just days before President Grant was to leave office, a special commission decided the election. (It had even been bantered around Congress for a provision allowing Grant to stay on until the matter was resolved.)

Pundits will tell you there have never been times like these politically. They are correct to some degree, if they mean the power of the internet and 24 hour news channels. Though, I suppose since the dawn of the simple printing press, there has always been someone out there telling it as they saw it. The truth is, though, history shows us that things have been crazier, if you will, in politics, and the United States survived.

If one of the "crazy" scenarios occurs during this election cycle, may we all have the wisdom of President Grant back in 1877. Despite the historically noted faults of his time as President, perhaps his greatest moment was not allowing either side to have supporters "march on Washington." Instead he pleaded for citizens to abide by and accept the constitutional process. With an electorate that is now so divided and so passionate, such a stance might be never more important for the future of our nation.

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