What if they held an election and no one won? Not possible you say? Think again.
By the time the final ballot is counted on November 8th in the US Presidential election, it will have been more than 18 months since the process formally began and more than $2 Billion will have been spent trying to influence the outcome.
In the presidential sweepstakes the electoral college is used in order to assure each state gets a proportional voice in the process. In order to win a candidate must get 270 electoral votes. With the two party system that dominates American politics either a Republican or a Democrat wins virtually every state, every time. What if they didn’t?
It may not be as far fetched as you think.
There are always other names on the ballot. Occasionally a “third party” candidate makes a dent in the overall vote count, like Ross Perot in 1992 (18%) or John Anderson in 1980 (6.6%), but only once in the last 50 years have actual electoral votes gone to an outsider (George Wallace in 1968).
Among the battleground states, let’s say Hillary Clinton wins Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Virginia and Trump wins Florida, Ohio and North Carolina. This would create an extremely tight race in the electoral college. The winner of the race would be decided by states with some of the smallest populations in the US including Utah (6 electoral votes) New Mexico (5 electoral votes), Vermont (3 electoral votes) and New Hampshire (4 electoral votes).
You can give New Hampshire to either candidate and the electoral count will stand at 264 - 260 in favor of the candidate that won the granite state. The three tiny remaining states suddenly control who surpasses 270 and is named President-elect. But 2016 has certainly been unpredictable. At this point perhaps we should expect the unexpected.
In Utah some polls are showing Evan McMullin, a conservative former CIA operative and local from Utah, running neck and neck with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. What if McMullin could pull out a victory and win Utah? That would put the tally at 264- 260 - 6 and leave only two states and 8 electoral votes.
The possibilities get even more interesting. Several articles published over this past weekend suggest that Bernie Sanders could win his home state of Vermont through a write-in candidacy despite the fact he says he is supporting Clinton. His supporters have never completely warmed up to Hillary and especially after the WikiLeaks info where her team mocked Sanders supporters, they may be inclined to support their Senator rather than the party’s nominee. If that happens, another 3 electoral votes are off the table, leaving only the 5 electoral votes of New Mexico. That means neither major candidate could reach the 270 threshold. Wait, it gets better.
Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson is the Libertarian Party nominee. Is it completely beyond the realm of possibility that the state that elected him their Governor would vote for him to occupy the White House? It’s unlikely, but this year it seems anything can happen.
In addition to the novelty of multiple candidates earning electoral votes, the bigger question is the impact on the outcome. The answer? Monumental.
If no candidate gets 270 electoral votes, the decision is tossed to the House of Representatives. Each state’s delegation gets one vote and a candidate must have a majority to win. So either Clinton or Trump will still ultimately become President? Not necessarily. The House of Representatives can consider from among the top three vote getters when casting their ballots… which means that, long-shot or not, if Evan McMullin focuses all his attention on Utah and earns their 6 electoral votes, he would enter the House of Representatives on even footing with Trump and Clinton.
President Elect McMullin? Even in the crazy year of 2016 we didn’t see that one coming.
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