If Trump and Biden fail to get 270

If no presidential candidate wins at least 270 electoral votes in a U.S. presidential election, the decision on who becomes president is taken to the House of Representatives, according to the 12th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This situation, known as a contingent election, has only occurred three times in American history (1800, 1824, and 1876), making it a rare event. Here’s what happens in such a scenario:

In the House of Representatives

  • Voting Process: Each state delegation in the House gets one vote to determine the president. This means that the representatives from each state must come to a consensus on whom to cast their single vote. The candidate who receives the majority of votes from the state delegations (at least 26 out of 50) becomes the president.
  • Candidate Pool: Only the top three recipients of electoral votes are considered in the House vote for president.

For the Vice President

  • If no vice presidential candidate wins at least 270 electoral votes, the Senate selects the vice president. In this case:
    • Voting Process: Each senator has one vote, making for a total of 100 votes (assuming no vacancies in the Senate at the time).
    • Candidate Pool: The Senate chooses from the top two recipients of electoral votes for vice president.
    • Majority Requirement: A majority of the whole Senate (at least 51 votes, if all seats are filled) is required to elect the vice president.

Implications and Considerations

  • Timing: This process takes place after the Electoral College votes in December and before the inauguration on January 20. The new Congress, which is sworn in on January 3, conducts the contingent election.
  • Political Dynamics: The voting process can lead to intense negotiations and political maneuvering within and between state delegations, especially in a closely divided House or when the House majority is different from the president’s party.
  • Historical Context: The most recent contingent election for president occurred in 1824, when John Quincy Adams was elected by the House after none of the candidates secured a majority of the electoral votes.

In summary, while the scenario of no candidate winning at least 270 electoral votes is rare, the U.S. Constitution provides a clear, though complex, process for resolving such an impasse, involving both the House of Representatives and the Senate in determining the next president and vice president, respectively.

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