Last week, I told you about the contested election of 1876, which was only resolved with the creation of a 15-member Electoral Commission. The Electoral Count Act was passed in 1887 to prevent another election debacle like 1876. Today, Representative Mo Brooks, Republican of Alabama, is hoping to use the Electoral Count Act this January 6th to get Donald Trump declared the winner of the 2020 election. Brooks said he wants to get the Electoral College votes of five states - Arizona, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Georgia, and Wisconsin - thrown out for voting irregularities.
To go down this path, Brooks has to find a senator willing to co-sign the challenge. Rand Paul indicated he might do so. Ron Johnson is also receptive, but wants to see what transpires at his hearing this week on election irregularities before committing to Brooks. If Brooks can get a senator to sign on, each house of Congress would go to its own chamber for a two-hour debate and then a vote on whether to disqualify the electoral votes of one or more states. Both houses would have to agree. If one house wants to throw out votes and the other does not, the votes remain valid and the process goes from there. But if votes are tossed, one possible outcome is that neither candidate achieves a majority of electors, throwing the election into the House of Representatives where a majority of state delegations picks the winner under the 12th Amendment. However, that’s not the only possible outcome. The Electoral Count Act has so many confusing, ambiguous, and contradictory provisions it makes your head spin. For example, it’s ambiguous, in the case of multiple slates of electors from one state, as to whether the slate certified by the Governor should be counted or no slate is counted at all.
That’s not even the worst of it. The process under the Electoral Count Act is supposed to be completed by the time the term of the outgoing president ends. Under the 20th Amendment, that’s set hard and fast at noon on January 20th. The process might not be concluded by then because the two houses of Congress might disagree whether the electoral count has been completed, or disagree that a new president has been selected. There could be two people claiming to be president at noon on January 20th. If the process is not concluded by that time, then the Speaker of the House - Nancy Pelosi in this case - is sworn in as acting president under the 20th Amendment and the Presidential Succession Act.
They say Congress is where the sausage is made. Not pretty, is it?
The U.S. House of Representatives has been involved in deciding three presidential elections in our history - in 1800, 1824, and 1876.
The election of 1800 has been called ‘recognizably modern’. John Adams and his Federalist Party favored a strong central government, while Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republican Party wanted lower taxes and more federalism. Mr. Jefferson’s party also denounced John Adams’ Alien and Sedition Acts which made it harder for immigrants to become citizens and punished people who criticized the national government. Under the rules before the 12th Amendment, Jefferson and Aaron Burr who was in the same party tied in the Electoral College, each receiving 73 votes. Adams was third with 65. The tie threw the election into the House of Representatives where nobody came out on top in 35 ballots. Jefferson prevailed on the 36th ballot after getting the support of Alexander Hamilton.
In 1824, Andrew Jackson won a plurality of both the electoral vote and the popular vote. But because no candidate got a majority of the electoral vote, the election went to the House under the terms of the 12th Amendment which had been ratified in 1804. Henry Clay had come in fourth in the Electoral College and was eliminated. He threw his support to John Quincy Adams who won the election in the House on the first ballot after getting 13 state votes out of the 24 states America had at the time. This was a big shock to Andrew Jackson who had done the best in both the Electoral College and the popular vote. Jackson had the last laugh, however. There were accusations Henry Clay gave his support to John Quincy Adams in exchange for being named Secretary of State. Clay did in fact become Secretary of State under Adams. Jackson campaigned on it for four years, helping him defeat Adams in the 1828 rematch.
There was high drama again in the 1876 election when Democrat Samuel Tilden won a majority of the popular vote, but came up short in the Electoral College, 19 votes ahead of Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. There ensued a long, drawn-out and controversial post-election process. Twenty electoral votes from four states were contested. There were allegations of election fraud on the part of Democrats and threats of violence against Republican voters in Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina. Republicans dominated the electoral commissions in those states and awarded their electoral votes to Hayes. In Oregon, the results favored the Republicans, but the state’s Democratic Governor claimed that one of the Republican electors was ineligible, having held office as postmaster. The two Republican electors presented three votes for Hayes, signed by Oregon’s secretary of state. The newly installed Democrat elector reported one vote for Tilden and two for Hayes, signed by the Governor and attested by the secretary of state. Oregon’s votes were eventually awarded to Hayes and the Democrats claimed fraud.
The dispute moved to Congress with Republicans saying the President of the Senate should count the votes and the Democrats arguing no disputed vote should be counted without the concurrence of both houses. The Democrats wanted to block the vote of one state in the House where they held a majority. This would have swung the election to Tilden. This was an unprecedented constitutional crisis which was resolved when Congress passed a law creating a 15-member Electoral Commission to settle procedural disputes and decide what to do with double sets of electoral college votes from states. In closed-door meetings, a grand bargain was struck: Hayes would get the 20 disputed electoral votes he needed to make him President, in exchange for the Republicans ending Reconstruction and withdrawing federal troops from the South. So it was the constitutional crisis of 1876 was resolved, but the resolution came at the price of disenfranchising black voters throughout the South for nearly a hundred years.
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Mayflower Compact is a reminder of the importance and religious derivation of the Rule of Law
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