Electoral College Follies: How Tim Kaine or Mike Pence Could Become Our Next President

As strange as it sounds, under the arcane rules of the US Electoral College, vice presidential nominees Tim Kaine (left) or Mike Pence could end up as president.As strange as it sounds, under the arcane rules of the US Electoral College, vice presidential nominees Tim Kaine (left) or Mike Pence could end up as president. (Photos: US Naval Institute, Talk Radio News Service)

While the US talks a lot about “spreading democracy abroad,” Washington’s record of bomb-and-bullet-imposed “regime change” clearly leans toward installing puppets, tyrants and chaos — see Afghanistan, Honduras, Iraq, Libya, et al.

What does it say about our allegiance to democracy that so many of our allies are either monarchies or countries with parliamentary (rather than direct, popular) elections? Examples: Australia, Bahrain, Britain, Egypt, Germany, Israel, Japan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

And how about “democracy” at home? Even Vladimir Putin, after looking at the US Electoral College model for presidential selections, recently was moved to remark: “You call that a democracy?” In Russia, presidential leaders are determined by a direct vote by the people. There is no Electoral College. Russia also holds its elections on Sundays, so people don’t have to leave their jobs to vote. (Note: Putin also took the occasion to complain about US meddling in Russia’s 2012 presidential election.)

For more original Truthout election coverage, check out our election section, “Beyond the Sound Bites: Election 2016.”

Other countries that are “more democratic than the US,” i.e., countries that rely on a direct popular vote to elect their presidents and prime ministers, include: Abkhazia, Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Benin, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Comoros, Congo (Brazzaville), Congo (Kinshasa), Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, East Timor, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Honduras, Iceland, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malawi, Maldives, Mali, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Mongolia, Montenegro, Mozambique, Nagorno Karabakh, Namibia, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Palau, Palestinian National Authority, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somaliland, South Ossetia, South Sudan, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Togo, Transnistria, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

(Real world footnote: There is, of course, no guarantee that a direct, popular vote will be free from corruption, fraud or disruption.)

According to Wikipedia’s list of Elections by country, there are only five other countries beside the US that use an “indirect election”/Electoral College model. They are Estonia, Germany, India, Pakistan and Suriname.

If the Electoral College Fails, What Next?

Recent events remind us that US presidential elections can be — at worst — a meaningless sham in which a candidate can win the popular vote and still be denied the presidency.

And, as strange as it sounds, under the arcane rules of the US Electoral College, the 2016 presidential race could, in theory, result in a new administration consisting of a President Gary Johnson and Vice President Mike Pence. Here’s how that could happen.

It takes a bare majority of the Electoral College’s 538 votes to win the presidency. Both Trump and Clinton remain profoundly unpopular with many voters. According to the latest projections by 270toWin.com, neither candidate had a lock on 270 seats. Clinton was closest, with 268. Trump had 129. But Clinton’s lead was threatened by ongoing leaks of embarrassing emails.

What if none of the candidates garners the Electoral College’s magic number? The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) lays out the process: “If no candidate receives a majority of Electoral votes, the House of Representatives elects the president from the 3 Presidential candidates who receive the most Electoral votes.”

The House is currently — and may likely continue to be — held by a Republican majority that would favor Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. But if Trump continues to self-destruct, desperate Republicans would be free to choose third-party (and third place) Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson.

Meanwhile, as the NARA’s Federal Register explains: “The Senate would elect the Vice President from the 2 Vice Presidential candidates with the most Electoral votes.”

A mischievous Democratic Senate could be tempted to stymie the GOP’s victory by nominating fellow Dem Tim Kaine — a candidate sworn to uphold the values enshrined in the Party Platform. Republicans, meanwhile, would maneuver to promote Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as vice president-elect.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., reportedly revealed that, if elected, his dad plans to hand over all the boring, day-to-day presidential duties to his vice president, thereby freeing Trump Sr. to concentrate on “making America great again.”

As CNN reported on July 21, 2016: “Multiple sources close to [Ohio Gov. John] Kasich said Trump’s son, Donald Jr., tried to entice Kasich with a position as the most powerful vice president in history, but he turned it down. Kasich would have been in charge of all domestic and foreign policy in a Trump White House.” [Emphasis added.] The Trump campaign denied the story but a subsequent New York Times report confirmed the account.

Trump-Kaine, Trump-Pence? Either outcome, for all practical matters, could transform Kaine or Pence into a de facto president. This prospect might sway some politicians to consider a Gary Johnson presidency.

With the increasing disharmony between Trump and the mainline GOP, there is another scenario that could wind up making either Kaine or Pence the next US president. Here’s how it might unfold:

Once again, citing the NARA’s Federal Register: If the House fails to select a president by Inauguration Day, “the Vice-President Elect serves as acting President until the deadlock is resolved in the House.”

While the House has never been called upon to select a president, the Senate has, in the past, intervened to approve a VP. This has only happened once. In 1836, Democrat Martin Van Buren secured enough Electoral College votes to become president, but his running mate, Richard M. Johnson, fell one vote shy of the mark. Johnson had to face off against Francis Granger, a Republican, who was the VP choice on the Whig Party ticket.

(Further complicating matters, the Whig Party was split that year, so Granger’s name appeared as VP on two presidential tickets — one for Whig candidate William Henry Harrison and another for Whig candidate Daniel Webster.) Ultimately, in the only “contingent election” in US history, Johnson was chosen to serve as Van Buren’s VP by a Senate vote of 33-16.

So, come Inauguration Day (and barring an imposed Johnson presidency), either Mike Pence or Tim Kaine could have his hands on the purse strings and the nuclear buttons. As to how the “deadlock” would be “resolved,” that would be anyone’s guess.

A Trump presidency would pose a grave threat to marginalized people and to the truth. His campaign has been characterized by blatant racism, misogyny, xenophobia and fact-free bombast. However, he is correct about one thing (albeit for all the wrong reasons): The system is “rigged.”

Given all of the above, wouldn’t we be better off if we simply abandoned the Electoral College altogether and joined the majority of the world’s nations that actually practice the kind of free, open and unmediated political engagement that arises from a direct, popular and democratic vote?

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