Resolute Square

Contingent Election – A Return To Smoke Filled Rooms

Fmr. Congressman Martin Frost writes, "No Labels has lost the argument that its candidate could win the election. Their fallback argument is a return to smoke-filled back rooms where party bosses decide who becomes president. How can the No Labels crowd say they stand for Reform with a straight face?"
Published:March 25, 2024
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By Martin Frost

One of the crazier ideas being pushed by No Labels is that they could play a key role in a contingent election of a new president by the House of Representatives if neither the Democratic nominee (Biden) nor the Republican nominee (Trump) receives a majority (270) of the Electoral Votes in 2024. The No Labels candidate couldn’t actually be elected but could make “deals” to throw the election to one of the two major party candidates. How do you think the public would like that?

In order for this to happen, one of two things would need to occur: (1) the Electoral Vote would need to be tied at 270 for Biden and 270 for Trump, or (2) A third-party candidate would need to carry several states so that neither Biden nor Trump won at least 270 Electoral Votes.

A third party candidate carrying several states is a high hill to climb since Electoral Votes are determined winner-take-all according to the popular vote state by state in 48 states. The most recent third-party candidate to win a substantial popular vote was Ross Perot, who won 19 percent of the total popular vote in 1992 but did not win a single Electoral Vote since he did not win ANY states.

The other scenario (a 270-270 tie) would not trigger a three-way contingent election since the Constitution provides that any contingent election in the House would be between the top three finishers of the Electoral Vote. A third-party candidate would not make the runoff since the No Labels candidate would not receive any Electoral votes. That is exactly what happened in the 1800 election when Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr tied in the Electoral Vote.

If a contingent election were to occur for the 2024 election, each state would get one vote. Thus California and Wyoming would get a single vote for president despite their great difference in population. Sound fair?

Each state’s single vote would be determined by a caucus of its House members. A collection of small states, each with only one or two House Members, could tip the election to the candidate who lost the national popular vote.

No Labels has lost the argument that its candidate could win the election. Their fallback argument is a return to smoke-filled back rooms where party bosses decide who becomes president. How can the No Labels crowd say they stand for Reform with a straight face?

NOTE: Former Congressman Martin Frost (D-Texas, 1979-2005) was Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 1996 and 1998 and Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus from 1999 to 2002.

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