The House always wins: Will Congress pick the next president?

Clinton and Trump are neck-and-neck in the polls; throw in a third-party candidate, and maybe no one wins the electoral vote. What then? Congress.


WASHINGTON, June 2, 2016 — The latest polls show that the two likely candidates for president, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, are in a virtual dead heat. Both have large unfavorable ratings, and neither appears likely to pull off a massive victory in November.

The situation is complicated by the candidate from the Libertarian Party, who could siphon votes from both sides.

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This tight race means America could face an election where a candidate does not receive a majority of the electoral votes. According to the Constitution, if that is the case, then the House of Representatives will elect the president. Each state will cast one vote in that election, regardless of population. In other words, California will have the same say as Rhode Island.

The last time the House of Representatives determined the presidency was the election of 1824. Andrew Jackson won the popular vote and received a plurality of electoral votes over John Adams, but two other candidates won enough votes to keep Jackson from winning the election outright. The House gave the election to Adams, causing Jackson supporters to riot.

Political pundits suggest that a third-party candidate could keep Clinton and Trump from winning the election outright. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson has a sliver of support from Clinton over Trump, possibly keeping her from simply sweeping all the swing states. Johnson has also polled in double-digits in a three-way race. 

The House is split between 33 states with Republican-majority delegations, 14 with Democratic majorities and three that are tied.

While the House elects the president, the Senate picks the vice president from the top two finishers. Theoretically, a Republican could win the presidency, and a Democrat could win the vice presidential slot. 

The electors’ decision to either support or run from their candidate opens the possibility that they might join the party rank and file. The vote decision will reveal where the GOP and Democrats really stand. The vote could go to Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton or even John Kasich. Will a Democratic/Republican president be able to work with a Republican or Democratic vice president? Depending on the outcome, the new presidency could be a nightmare.

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