Most of the concern over the independent presidential campaigns of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Cornel West and the No Labels party has focused on the risk that they could draw votes away from President Biden and throw the 2024 election to Donald Trump. That’s understandable, given what happened in 2000 and 2016.
But there is another reason to fear these candidacies, and it’s right there in the Constitution: a contingent election decided by the House of Representatives, arguably the worst part of the Electoral College system.
Ask people who don’t like the Electoral College — that’s roughly two-thirds of Americans — and they will point to its occasional habit of awarding the presidency to the candidate who comes in second in the popular vote. This fundamental violation of majority rule has happened five times — in 1824, 1876, 1888, 2000 and 2016. It nearly happened in 2020 and threatens to do so again in 2024.
Don’t get me wrong: The wrong-winner scenario is unequivocally bad. Mr. Trump once called it “a disaster for a democracy,” before it delivered him to the White House. Yet it is not the most democratically offensive feature of the Electoral College. Few Americans are aware that under the Constitution, a candidate could lose the popular vote and the Electoral College and still become president. In fact, it’s already happened.
How? By taking the election completely away from the people and giving it to the House of Representatives. This may sound far-fetched, but it is alarmingly plausible at a moment when the major-party candidates are relatively unpopular. No Labels (which is also the No Candidate party at the moment) seems to think that a contingent election is an entirely viable path to the White House — which is true, since it is virtually impossible to imagine any third-party candidate winning the old-fashioned way. But the group seems willfully oblivious to the chaos and destabilization that contingent elections provoked in the past and undoubtedly would again, especially in such a tense and polarized political climate. It is, as the best-selling author James Michener put it in a 1969 book on the topic, “a time bomb lodged near the heart of the nation.” [Continue reading…]