Given that both leading presidential candidates have the lowest approval rating of any post-war nominees*, it’s not surprising that voters may be considering alternatives.
Unfortunately for parties such as the Greens or Libertarians, US elections have been a two-horse race for so long, and the system so weighted towards the big two parties, that they don’t usually stand a chance of gaining even one vote in the electoral college.
However, in 2016, things may be different, and it’s all down to Donald Trump’s unpopularity in his own party**. Pundits are starting to consider three ways that neither Trump or Hillary Clinton will be the 45th president of the US.
All of these alternative results depend on the unique political institution that is the US electoral college*** and the final vote being a close run thing.
Scenario 1 – Texas goes rogue
Texas is the second-largest state in the electoral college and the biggest that the Republican party are expected to win. It’s also one of the 20 which have no law preventing its electors from voting for whoever they like^.
In theory, if the Republican party electors in Texas are so disenchanted with Donald Trump, they could instead cast their 38 electoral college votes for another candidate of their choosing. This would mean that Donald Trump would be very unlikely to gain the 270 votes needed to win the college vote.
However, if Trump was to win some important swing states, such as Florida (29 electoral college votes), Clinton would also be unlikely to pass the magic 270 mark.
In the event of no one candidate getting a majority in the electoral college, the House of Representatives then meets to vote for the next president. Each state, regardless of population, gets one vote and their choice is limited to the three candidates who have received the most number of electoral college votes - in this case, Clinton, Trump and Texas’s wild-card choice.
Given that the Republicans currently have a majority in the House of Representatives, and are expected to retain this after the election unless there is a Democratic landslide, they will be faced with a dilemma. Do they choose the Republican party’s official candidate or Texas’s Republican substitute?
Scenario 2 – Utah picks the president
In a similar situation to the first, it may be that a close race between Clinton & Trump brings another candidate to the fore. Though it is incredibly unlikely that any national third party such as the Greens or Libertarians could gain any electoral college votes, there is a candidate who could.
Evan McMullin is a conservative independent candidate who is polling very well in Republican-leaning Utah, and may actually take that state’s six electoral college votes, thanks to Trump’s unpopularity there.
If neither main party candidate gets a majority in the electoral college, this would present a Republican House of Representatives with a similar dilemma – choose Trump, or the more mainstream McMullin?
Scenario 3 – The vice-president takes over
In the event of no candidate getting a majority in the electoral college, the House of Representatives must keep voting until they reach a decision. However, if no decision is reached by inauguration day on 20 January 2017, then the vice-presidential candidates come to the fore.
If either potential VP gets a majority in the electoral college, then they would automatically become president on inauguration day if the House of Representatives cannot agree on a presidential candidate to vote for.
If no vice-presidential candidate wins in the electoral college on election day, then the US Senate meets to choose the next VP in a similar way to the House of Representatives choosing the president. However, they can only choose from the two candidates with the most college votes, not three as for the president. This would, more than likely, leave a Republican Senate with the choice of the Democrats’ Tim Kaine or their own Mike Pence.
Although, with only two weeks to the election, current polls suggest that Clinton will win the general election by a comfortable margin, there’s still time for Trump to close the gap. It’s unlikely that any of the above scenarios will actually come to pass, but given the twists and turns we’ve already seen in this contest, there may be an outside chance of a history-making outcome.
And who knows then how Trump, and his more passionate supporters, would react?
***how it works: https://assets.cmcmarkets.com/pdfs/us-election-infographic.pdf
^This has happened 20 times in US history, though it has never changed the outcome of a presidential election.
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