The 2016 Presidential Race: A Chance for History

By John Evans

If you are anything like me, right now two sets of stories dominate your social media feeds; stories of the Olympics and stories about the presidential elections. With the Olympics already receiving a blog post, I figured I will focus on the presidential election.  What is a possible implication of the Electoral College?


1908The 12th amendment to the Constitution of the United States changed the Electoral College and in part established that in the event no candidate receives a majority of electoral votes, the House of Representative shall choose the president from the top three candidates. However, each state only gets one vote.

As of 8/15 the forecasts Clinton receiving 322 votes and Trump receiving 216. 270 electoral votes are needed for a majority. If Trump is able to rally and win back Florida and North Carolina that would change the totals to Clinton 278 and Trump 260.

But what happens when a third party candidate breaks up the two party political monopoly?  The only candidate currently running who seems to have any chance would be Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party.  To stage this upset, Johnson would only need to take away 9 electoral votes from Clinton. Johnson’s home state, New Mexico, holds 6 votes and the “Free State Project”–New Hampshire–holds 4 more.  If Johnson wins these two states the final tally would be Clinton 268, Trump 260 and Johnson 10.  The election would then move to the House.

Many people, at this point, would say that the idea of a third party candidate winning even one state is impossible and not worthy of any analysis. However Gary Johnson may be the first third party Candidate even allowed to debate in modern history. Presidential debates are planned and sponsored by The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD).  The FEC requires the CPD to choose the participants in the debates based on “pre-existing, objective” criteria.

The CPD’s criteria: “[c]onstitutionally eligible … appear on a sufficient number of state ballots to have a mathematical chance of winning a majority vote in the Electoral College, and have a level of support of at least 15 percent of the national electorate as determined by five selected national public opinion polling organizations.”

Historically, many third party choices have met the first two criteria and are held out by the third.  Johnson has recently received his own bump in the polls.

Johnson media attention has also been significant, including large articles in Politico and Time Magazine. This additional media attention could lead to a last big push to the 15% mark and get Johnson on the big stage. Johnson could then use the momentum from getting into the debate to win some electoral votes.

With the likelihood the republicans retaining the house, and the unpopularity of Trump among house republicans, who knows the outcome.


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