Trump vs. Biden: What Happens if No One Wins the Electoral College?

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September 12, 2020 Topic: Politics Region: Americas Blog Brand: 2020 Election Tags: Joe Biden20202020 ElectionDonald TrumpAmericaDisputed Election

Trump vs. Biden: What Happens if No One Wins the Electoral College?

How might a proper winner be announced? Will Congress or the courts have to take action?

“Folks, it looks like we don’t have a forty-sixth president just yet,” Fox News’ Chris Wallace said during the network’s live coverage after the Electoral College votes were cast. “The House is in the process of convening to settle this contingent election, which is the fourth time in history that this has happened. Stay tuned.”

The presidential scoreboard marks Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden with 257 Electoral College votes—just 13 votes short of what he needed to be the next president of the US. President Donald Trump trails right behind at 239 votes, as he grappled support from some crucial battleground states, including Wisconsin and Minnesota. Libertarian candidate Jo Jorgensen had an unexpectedly strong backing from the electorate, with 69 votes.

Since no candidate achieved 270 votes, the House of Representatives must meet to decide who will take the reins to lead the country out of the coronavirus pandemic and pave a path to solid economic recovery.

Chaos has struck Capitol Hill, as there hasn’t been a contingent election since the 1800s.

“Let’s take down Donald Trump,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters as she scurried to the House floor.

Lawmakers are swarming the Hill, as the House battles to name the forty-sixth president before midnight.

What happens at a contingent election?

If neither candidate makes it to 270 Electoral College votes, then the process is immediately handled by the House of Representatives, where one presidential candidate would need to grasp the majority of state delegations.

The constitutional procedure, called a contingent election, enables the House to make the ultimate decision. During this process, the House is required to choose among the three candidates who received the most electoral college votes. Unlike typical, day-to-day congressional legislation, each state delegation votes en bloc, where each state gets one vote, regardless of the number of congressional districts. A candidate must earn the absolute majority support of state delegation votes to become the next president. Out of the fifty states, a candidate must receive twenty-six state delegation votes.

The process was initially established in Article II of the Constitution, which was then modified by the Twelfth Amendment in the Constitution, granting the House the power to convene to determine the official election results.

Trump’s Predicted Electoral College Votes

Biden’s overall lead in the national polls has tightened slightly after the coronavirus revised Republican National Convention, indicating a race that still remains up-in-the-air as several battleground states are see-sawing between both candidates.

In 2016, Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton experienced a similar neck-and-neck battle, as both rallied widespread support across the country. On election day, Trump reached 306 Electoral College votes against Clinton, as she only posted 232 votes—despite earning the popular vote. But, Trump won the electorate’s votes from crucial battleground states that likely swung the election results, including Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

As Trump acts as the incumbent for the upcoming election, his decisions as president have come to haunt him. At the forefront is his handling of the coronavirus pandemic—that killed more than 190,000 infected Americans—causing his support to tank and his campaign to drown underwater. The president’s approval ratings working in the Oval Office reached more than 53 percent as of Thursday, according to the RealClearPolitics average.

Despite his growing dissatisfaction, Trump has a strong backing from numerous red states for the upcoming election. As of Thursday, FiveThirtyEight predicted that Trump will rally 210 Electoral College votes—almost 100 less than what he gained during his presidential run in 2016. Some states that are likely to back the Trump-Vice President Mike Pence ticket in November include Wyoming, Oklahoma, Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, South Dakota, and Mississippi.

Biden’s Predicted Electoral College Votes

In recent weeks, Biden’s lead in the general election against Trump has hovered between six and seven percent, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average. The lead, however, which is likely to jump after veteran journalist Bob Woodward released the audio recordings of Trump downplaying the severity of the virus, has tightened after the political conventions. As the election inches closer, partisan lines have polarized and more Americans are siding with one candidate.

In 2012, when Biden served as the vice president under President Barack Obama, the Democratic ticket gained 332 Electoral College votes, while then-Republican candidate Mitt Romney only got 206 votes. Obama and Biden welcomed votes from states that actually crossed to the other side of the aisle just four years later including Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio and Iowa.

Even though Biden has a consistent lead in the national polls, most Americans remain skeptical of the former vice-president’s handling of the economy during a blistering pandemic that’s forced millions of people out of work. But, as of Thursday, FiveThirtyEight projected that Biden will win the Electoral College and the White House in November, as he’s slated to get 328 votes.

Some of the states that are expected to back Biden are Vermont, California, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Illinois.

It’s Unlikely A Contingent Election Will Happen

Contingent elections are extremely rare in U.S. history.

One of the most recent contingent elections was in 1824 when four candidates—Andrew Jackson, John Quncy Adams, William H. Crawford, and Henry Clay—earned votes from the Electoral College. Although Jackson got more electoral and popular votes than the other three candidates, he did not receive the needed amount to land a spot in the White House.

The procedure was then sent to the House, where Adams ultimately won the presidency.

This has only happened two other times—one being a vice presidential contingent election that was determined in the Senate—and all of them occurred during the 1800s.

Considering the extreme partisan divide, it’s unlikely that neither Trump nor Biden will win the presidential bid. Even so, it’s not completely impossible as the polls indicate a tightening, more competitive race that'll be unpredictable.

Rachel Bucchino is a reporter at the National Interest. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report and The Hill.

Image: Reuters