Saturday, October 14, 2023


Jesse Wegman has written an opinion piece titled "The Real Danger in Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Independent Run." It's valuable for reminding us how terrible it would be to have a presidential election thrown into the House of Representatives, which is what happens if no candidate wins a majority of the electoral vote. Wegman writes:
In that case, the American people no longer have a say in the biggest election in the land. Instead, under the 12th Amendment, the top three electoral vote getters advance to a second round, in which the House of Representatives “shall choose immediately, by ballot, the president. But” — and rarely in the history of democracy has a “but” been asked to do so much — “in choosing the president, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote.”

... The point is, it doesn’t matter which party has more members in the House as a whole; all that matters is the happenstance of which party controls more state delegations. And right now Republicans control 26 state delegations and Democrats 22.

One vote per state, with the presidency in the balance. Stop for a moment and consider the absurdity of this. North Dakota, whose single representative in Congress represents about 779,000 people, would have as much say in choosing the nation’s leader as California’s 52 House members, who together represent almost 40 million people. The two Dakotas combined (fewer than 1.7 million people, about the population of Phoenix) would wield twice as much power as Texas, with 30 million people. This is about as far from the principle of majority rule as you can get.
This almost happened in 2020. Joe Biden won the popular vote by just over 7 million votes, but if approximately 43,000 votes in Georgia, Arizona, and Wisconsin hadn't been cast for Biden, we would have had a 269-269 Electoral College tie -- and the House undoubtedly would have voted to return Donald Trump to office.

Wegman doesn't mention 2020, however. He's worried about 2024, because high-profile third-party candidates are running for president:
Most of the concern over the independent presidential campaigns of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Cornel West and the No Labels party has focused on the risk that they could draw votes away from President Biden and throw the 2024 election to Donald Trump. That’s understandable, given what happened in 2000 and 2016.

But there is another reason to fear these candidacies, and it’s right there in the Constitution: a contingent election decided by the House of Representatives....

... imagine that in 2024, a No Labels candidate or even Mr. Kennedy or Mr. West is able to peel off a few electors in, say, Maine or Alaska, states that pride themselves on their independent streaks. (Maine awards its electors by congressional district, making it even easier to pick one off.)

... Bottom line: It’s easy to assemble an electoral map in which no candidate reaches 270 electoral votes, sending the election to the House.
But it won't happen because of Kennedy, West, or the No Labels candidate. None of them will win electoral votes.

First, remember that no third-party candidate has won even a single electoral vote in the past 99 years, with the exception of three segregationists. Strom Thurmond won 4 states and 39 electoral votes in 1948. George Wallace won 5 states and 46 electoral votes in 1968. And while Harry Byrd wasn't on the ballot in 1960, Mississippi's 8 electors voted for him, as did 6 of Alabama's electors and 1 of Oklahoma's. John Anderson, Ross Perot, Ralph Nader, and Jill Stein never won a state.

If you think Kennedy, West, or (in all likelihood) Joe Manchin running as a No Labels candidate can win an electoral vote or two, you have to ask yourself: Where in America would one of them be popular enough to beat every other candidate? The segregationist candidates triumphed in race-obsessed Southern states. Where could Kennedy win in 2024? He's too much of a crackpot to win Massachusetts. There's nothing about Maine's northern congressional district that's ideally suited to him. So where?

You might imagine that Manchin could win West Virginia, the way Bob La Follette won his home state of Wisconsin in 1924, but remember that West Virginia loves Donald Trump (he won the state 69%-30% in 2020), while Manchin is trailing Republican governor Jim Justice by double digits in Senate polls. An incumbent who's on track to lose a Senate reelection bid is not going to win the presidential race in his state.

And remember, the third-party candidates won't just be competing with Trump and President Biden -- they'll be competing with one another. Liberals and leftists who want to vote third party will split their votes among Kennedy, West, and possibly other candidates from the Green Party and People's Party. Right-wingers, centrists, and people of no particular ideology will have Kennedy and Manchin to choose from, as well as a Libertarian (if Kennedy doesn't run on the Libertarian line).

So every electoral vote in 2024 will be won by either Biden or Trump -- although that still could leave us with a 269-269 tie and an election decided in the House. And that would be appalling.

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