If the election is undecided, the House of Representatives steps in

This November, like every four years, the American people will vote for who they wish to be the President of the United States. Most of the last two centuries worth of elections have gone on without trouble, but what would happen if it didn’t? What happens if there is no clear winner on election night? 

The House of Representatives has been involved in the election process since the 19th century, and while there have been very few elections in which the House has been called upon, this upcoming election may be a close battle. 

Recent polls show Joe Biden holding a steady lead over the incumbent Donald J. Trump. Despite this, the race has remained close between the two candidates. One national poll by 270towin showed Biden to be in the lead by eight percent. While the statistics show which direction people are leaning, they do not give a reliable answer as to who will win the election.

Presidential elections have been confusing for years, so here’s how they work. First, what is the electoral college? 

According to 12th Amendment, which superseded Article II, Section I of the Constitution,  “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress.” 

The electoral college is a group of elected officials who represent each state. The number of electors is made up of the total number of Congress members from the state, the number of Representatives plus two Senators. For example, California has 53 Representatives in the House and two Senators, giving them 55 electoral votes

Furthermore, each party gets to pick their own 55 electors, because most states have a winner-take-all system. This means that if a candidate wins the majority of the popular vote in a state, they win all the electoral votes of that state. 

The popular vote is the whole number of individual votes cast in favor of a candidate. So, once every individual votes, the state tallies up which candidate received a majority of votes, reports it to the electors for the state, and the electors will then cast the ballot in December in favor of the candidate their state has selected. 

The presidential election is decided by whoever wins a clear majority in the electoral college, not the popular vote. Whichever candidate gets 270 electoral votes wins. 

For most of U.S. History, the winning president has passed the necessary threshold. However, if each candidate falls short of 270, then the election gets decided by the House of Representatives.

Thanks to the 12th Amendment, this procedure presents a back-up plan in case a scenario like this occurs. Written at the start of the 19th century, this document describes how Congress decides who will be president and vice president. Here’s the process.

The votes are then counted and two outcomes can occur. The first is either Trump or Biden receive the popular vote. The winner is then sworn in as the next president. The second outcome occurs when there are not enough votes for either candidate to win. 

When this happens, the members of the House of Representatives assemble in accordance with the 12th Amendment. 

Here is the actual verbiage of the amendment: 

“[F]rom the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in the case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President.”

If there is no clear majority won, the House of Representatives, only when a quorum of ⅔ of the House is present, will vote on who the next President is to be. Each state, however, will have only one vote. Furthermore, if they cannot choose a new president by the fourth of March, the Vice President shall take over. 

For the vice president?

“[I]f no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.”

A similar process will ensue in the Senate, as long as ⅔ are present, to elect the Vice President. 

Each office will only need a simple majority to win, meaning 26 votes in the House and 51 in the Senate.  

However, an even rarer case can occur. If the House of Representatives are tied 25 to 25, then whoever is chosen as vice president by the Senate will be named acting president until the House manages to break the tie. If both sides of Congress are tied when it comes to the vice president, then the Speaker of the House becomes acting president until either tie is broken.