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With this highly unusual presidential election coming to a close, you can’t help but wonder what will happen if none of the five candidates wins the 270 electoral votes needed to become the next POTUS. I mean crazier things have happened, right?
If you missed the day of elementary school that Schoolhouse Rock broke it down or needed a refresher, that’s what we’re here for. While the Electoral College was established in the Constitution, the 12th Amendment updated it in regards to how the president and vice president would be elected. They are elected by Electors. There are 538 Electoral votes up for grabs in total. Every state gets a certain number of Electoral votes based on its population. Specifically, it is composed of how many representatives it has in Congress. If you add up the number of people in the House of Representatives and the Senate, you get 535. What about the other three? Did I lose you? We have to get to 538. Those last three Electoral votes are for D.C. They were established with the 23rd Amendment. In order to win the presidency, one must reach 270 Electoral votes. When the census occurs every ten years, Electoral votes might be redistributed depending on population.
It is important for candidates to win states – especially big ones. All states other than Maine and Nebraska have a winner-take-all system. This means that even if a particular candidate wins by a slight margin in a certain state, that candidate receives all of its Electoral votes. If 55% of the candidates in Illinois go out and vote for Candidate A on Election Day and 45% for Candidate B, Candidate A received all 20 electoral votes of Illinois. Even though Candidate B didn’t lose by a ton, Candidate A gets disproportionately awarded due to the winner-take-all system. While electors could technically vote against the candidate they are pledged to, they very rarely do.
It has happened on several occasions that a candidate lost the popular vote but still won the Electoral College. The most recent of these happened in 2000. Democratic nominee, Al Gore finished with 48.4% of the popular vote. President Bush only came in with 47.9% of the popular vote. President Bush was elected by a small margin, with 271 Electoral votes compared to Al Gore’s 266 votes.
If no candidate were to receive the 270 Electoral votes, the duty falls to the House of Representatives. Members of the House would elect the president from the top three candidates who received the most Electoral votes. There is a plot twist: each state can only receive one vote. That would mean, for example, that all of Texas’ 36 representatives in the House would have to decide how to cast their one vote to represent the state of Texas.
The Vice President would be elected by the Senate from the top two VP candidates. If the House of Representatives cannot elect a president by Inauguration Day, the VP-Elect would serve as president until the deadlock is finished in the House. Since the president and the vice president are elected separately, there is a possibility that candidates from different tickets are elected.