Sunday, April 1, 2012

Americans Elect and the Electoral College

This past week the Davidson College Department of Political Science was pleased to host Americans Elect Campus Director, Nick Troiano. Mr. Troiano gave a talk on the process behind the movement to add a third line on the general election ballot  -- a platform -- for an ideologically diverse presidential ticket. FHQ won't get into the particulars of that quest or even into a discussion of the general difficulty third parties have in finding even a modicum of success in presidential elections. Suffice it to say, FHQ is skeptical of just how well Americans Elect will do this fall, but we are intrigued by what we would call the experiment the cause represents. The notion of a version 2.0 for American democracy, but one rooted in major party responsiveness to and co-opting of ideas that spur any success Americans Elect might enjoy, is a pragmatic approach that bears watching. 2012 to Americans Elect is more about establishing something -- a future position on the ballot given a 5% vote share -- than it is about winning the presidential election.

I'll leave it at that.

One new fact about Americans Elect that Mr. Troiano raised -- and FHQ was unaware of -- was the role the group or its candidate would play in the context of the electoral college. Now, this assumes a lot, and I don't want to get into that, but if the Americans Elect candidate wins electoral votes, but not enough to win the presidency. Obviously, if a third party candidate is receiving electoral votes, there is an argument to be made that it reduces the likelihood that any candidate will receive a majority of the electoral votes and thus avoid the election being thrown to the House of Representatives.1

But Americans Elect has planned for such a contingency. Under a scenario where the Americans Elect candidate receives some electoral votes and no candidate has a majority, the election does not automatically default to the House. The election only goes to the House if, in December when the selected electors gather in state capitols across the country and transmit their votes, no candidate has a majority. The House is not a setting where an Americans Elect candidate is going to fare all that well, what with there being no Americans Elect infrastructure there. Now, the greater the share of electoral votes the group's candidate has, the more likely his or her electors are to play a large role. No, they won't make any difference in the House -- for obvious reasons -- but the provision in the group's rules triggered under this scenario calls for the online convention delegates who chose the nominee in the first place to reconvene. That convention would then decide which of the two major parties' candidates to throw their support behind. the electoral college vote.

That would, first of all, prevent the outcome of the election from hinging on a delegation-by-delegation vote in the House of Representatives, but would, secondly, provide the group with some influence, some leverage, in the election itself and its aftermath.

Will the presidential election play out this way? No, it probably won't. But does this add a new wrinkle to everything to add into the electoral college tie scenario that will inevitably be discussed at some point this summer when people are bored with the state of the presidential race? Yes, yes it does. File this Americans Elect scenario away with that one.

1 This assumes that the third party candidate in question is drawing some support away from both major party candidates and not just primarily from one. If the support is mainly being drawn away from just one of the major party candidates, it is likely to the benefit of the other major party candidate in the electoral vote tally.

Recent Posts:
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These things are over sooner rather than later.

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arthur said...

In 1968, George Wallace carried five states and came frighteningly close to executng the electoral college strategy. I believe his plan was to give his votes to whichever candidate offered him a seat on the Supreme Court. (Nixon carried a majority of electoral votes)

Joshua said...

Americans Elect changed its bylaws regarding how their electors would vote their electoral votes (if they win enough EVs to influence the election). According to the bylaws as revised in March, the AE presidential nominee will decide which ticket the AE electors should vote for.

The previous version of the bylaws had provided for the delegates to choose which ticket the electors should vote for, but that provision has been eliminated.