If there’s a tie among the electors or if nobody gets a majority, then the election goes to the House of Representatives. Each state’s delegation of lawmakers gets one vote and they choose between the top three electoral vote-getters. According to the 12th Amendment, if nobody gets a majority by a certain deadline, the Vice President becomes President. If there’s no majority for the Vice President, the House delegations are excused and only the senators choose the Vice President. The 20th Amendment
changed the deadline from March 4 to January 20.
Most states (except for Maine and Nebraska, which split some of their electoral votes
) give all their electoral votes to the person who wins the popular vote in that state.
There are very Democratic parts of Texas and very Republican parts of California, for instance. But unless those states move to apportion their electoral votes differently, it is only the state popular vote that really matters.
Who likes this system?
A popular vote system certainly would be simpler to understand.
However, as proponents of the Electoral College point out, if you thought that recount in Florida in 2000 was nasty, imagine a nationwide recount of more than 130 million votes. THAT would be messy. And it could happen. Some states have automatic recounts for elections that are separated by less than .1% In 2016, with 136 million voters, that would have been a margin of around 136,000 votes. You can imagine a recount in the razor-thin election of 1960
, which featured a less-than .2% difference in vote totals
, but a solid Electoral College victory for John F. Kennedy.
One of the most important supporters is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has weighed in against the idea of a national popular vote effort
on the Senate floor.
Some defenses of the Electoral College have a racial tinge. Former Maine Gov. Paul LePage said that without the Electoral College, white people will have less say, which is quite sad considering the 3/5 Compromise helped bring about the Electoral College in the first place.
“Actually what would happen if they do what they say they’re gonna do is white people will not have anything to say,” LePage said, according to reports.
“It’s only going to be the minorities that would elect. It would be California, Texas, Florida. All the small states like Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Wyoming, Montana, Rhode Island, you’ll never see a presidential candidate again. You’ll never see anybody at the national stage come to our state,” he said. “We’re gonna be forgotten people. It’s an insane, insane process.”
But 65 percent of Americans supported selecting the President by popular vote, compared to 32% who preferred the Electoral College in a June 2018 PRRI/Atlantic survey.
There’s less support if the wording includes changing the Constitution. A Pew survey in March of 2018
asked if Americans supported amending the Constitution to select the President by popular vote and a smaller 55%, still a popular majority, endorsed the idea.
However, the Electoral College is written into the Constitution and changing the Constitution is very difficult. It takes years to accomplish and requires broad majorities in Congress or state legislatures. States that currently benefit from the Electoral College would have to give up some of that power. The other possibility is something like the aforementioned agreement by states to honor the national popular vote winner. But you can bet if that proposal takes hold, there will be lawsuits.
That said, the Electoral College has actually changed three times, each by constitutional amendment. The 12th Amendment
, passed after the tie election of 1800 (read about it!
) made it so that electors voted for President and Vice President instead of voting for two people who could be President. The 20th Amendment
put a time limit on the process. The 23rd Amendment
gave electors to the District of Columbia.
And there was a serious move decades ago to abolish the Electoral College altogether. In 1968, a proposal to replace the Electoral College with a popular vote system easily passed in the House
. It was filibustered in the Senate.