Saturday 24th October 2020
From Kevin Schulte
Will Trump or Biden win? If neither candidate has a majority, the US presidential election after November 3rd would be a hangover. A decision can be made days, weeks or even months later.
The 2016 US election night lasted particularly long. It was only around 9 a.m. German time that it was finally certain that Donald Trump would become the 45th President of the United States. But what happens this time? Will the duel between incumbent Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden be decided early or does the announcement of the results take days or even weeks?
US political expert Christian Lammert from the John F Kennedy Institute at the Free University of Berlin considers three scenarios realistic in the ntv podcast “Wieder was learned” – as of now -. “One scenario is a pretty clear victory by Joe Biden, who actually leaves Trump no choice other than admitting defeat. He has said time and again that he won’t do that right away. That’s why I’m talking explicitly about a clear election victory.”
Another possibility is a narrow victory for Donald Trump. “Joe Biden has already announced that he will then accept the defeat,” says Lammert, referring to scenario number three. “It is possible that there will not be a clear result either on November 3rd or in the weeks after the election because irregularities may have emerged in the postal voting documents. And I deliberately say irregularities and not systematic electoral fraud.”
Does the Supreme Court have to decide in the end?
The courts would have to deal with any irregularities. That can stretch up to the Supreme Court of the United States. This was most recently the case in the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. In Florida, after a court order, the number was counted several times. In the end, the Supreme Court spoke a word of power and declared the Republican candidate Bush the winner. At the time, Bush was only 537 (!) Ahead of Gore with a total of six million votes cast in the “Sunshine State”. To this day, the end result is controversial.
Political scientist Lammert is convinced that it could be chaotic this time too. It is quite possible that the Supreme Court will ultimately have to make a decision if the results in individual states are scarce. “And I think Trump assumes that decisions in the Supreme Court will be made in his favor,” said Lammert.
The Supreme Court is currently dominated by the Republicans, five of the eight members are considered conservative after the death of the liberal judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg. President Trump has nominated Amy Coney Barrett to succeed her, and the Conservative will almost certainly be confirmed as her successor before the election. The Catholic will expand Republican dominance in the Supreme Court to a 6-3 ratio. “So far, however, it has been shown that the judges usually develop a position that is politically more independent than some have predicted,” says Lammert.
House of Representatives could elect presidents
The presidency could not be decided either at the ballot box or at the Supreme Court. There is the unprecedented scenario that Trump and Biden each have 269 voters in the electoral body, the Electoral College. If that is the case, the newly elected House of Representatives will decide whether to move into the White House. This is what it says in the 12th Amendment to the Constitution from 1804. Such an election would take place on January 6, 2021 – when the new Congress is sworn in.
The procedure is complicated: Although the Democrats currently have a stable majority in the House of Representatives, not every one of the 435 MPs would have one vote in a presidential election. “The Americans seem to like to make their elections very cumbersome and have also provided this case with a special regulation,” explains Lammert. “The House of Representatives then does not vote according to MPs, but according to blocs of states.”
The Democrats currently occupy about 45 of the 53 seats from California. In contrast, poorly populated states like Montana or Wyoming send only one MP to Washington, one Republican each. However, all state delegations would each have one vote and thus the same weight in a presidential election, regardless of whether California or Wyoming.
Overall, Republicans currently outnumber 26 of the 50 state delegations. And it could stay that way after November 3rd. Means the Republicans could keep Trump in the White House via a detour if none of the candidates win a majority in the Electoral College in the presidential election.
“House of Cards” in reality?
It gets more complicated though. In the event of a tie among the electorate, the House of Representatives only elects the President, not the Vice-President. The second highest political office in the United States is elected by the Senate and its 100 members. That is also in the 12th Amendment to the Constitution.
“Here, too, depending on the balance of power and the majority in the two chambers, we might have a very curious constellation,” US expert Lammert points out that in theory Trump could be elected President by the House of Representatives and the Democratic candidate Kamala Harris could be elected Vice President by the Senate. Or Biden becomes president and Mike Pence remains in the office of vice president. “Such a constellation would of course lead to extreme political difficulties,” Lammert is convinced.
Right now, the Republicans have a 53-47 majority in the Senate, but the polls don’t necessarily look like they can hold it on November 3rd. How the Senate would behave in a vice-presidential election cannot yet be foreseen.
With the 12th Amendment, the Americans seem to have prepared for all eventualities in presidential elections. The regulations came into use only in 1824, when John Quincy Adams was elected President by the House of Representatives, and in the fifth season of the US political series “House of Cards”. Perhaps the 2020 US election will have a similar plot twist to offer.
You can find all the episodes of “Wieder Was Learned” in the ntv app, at Audio Now, Apple Podcasts and Spotify. You can use the RSS feed for all other podcast apps. Copy and paste the feed url and simply add “Again Learned” to your podcast subscriptions.
“Again something learned” is a podcast for the curious: How are cinemas doing during the Corona crisis? How is Ischgl preparing for the winter season under corona conditions? And can free public transport work? Listen to it and get a little smarter 3 times a week.