Blair Horner: Every vote counts

Oct 31, 2012

As much as medical care, public policy decisions have a tremendous impact on Americans’ health care.  And there is no decision more important than next week’s Presidential choice. 

Americans who watched the 2000 Presidential election – including Al Gore – know that it’s not the nation’s total popular vote that chooses the President.  In fact, there have been a total of three Presidents elected while losing the national popular vote.

It’s the 50 elections in each state – elections for delegates to the Electoral College – that matter.  Each state (and the District of Columbia) has a certain amount of Electoral College delegates – the number is the combined total of U.S. Senate and House of Representative seats in a particular state.  For example, New York State has 29 delegates.  Its allocation is based on its total of two US Senate seats and 27 members of Congress.

It takes at least 270 delegates to win the Presidency.

But what happens if neither Presidential candidate obtains 270 delegates?  (A not too far-fetched possibility given the expected closeness of this year’s vote.)

According to the U.S. Constitution, the decision is then sent to the U.S House of Representatives.   Should the House be called into action, the 435 members would not cast one vote apiece.  Instead, members would vote by state delegation.  One state, one vote.  Each delegation would caucus and choose its preferred president from among the top three vote-getters.

Presumably, GOP controlled delegations would vote for Republican nominee Mitt Romney, while the Democrat-controlled delegations would presumably cast their vote for President Barack Obama.

The winner needs at least 26 state votes.

But what happens in states that have Congressional delegations in which there is an even partisan split?  Twenty-two states have an even number of members of Congress.  Twelve of them have delegations in which the partisan difference is close.  Some are really close, like Minnesota which has 8 members of Congress, 4 of which are Democrats and 4 Republicans.  Other states like Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island have only two Congressional members. 

What happens if a state’s Congressional delegation cannot agree? 

In the event a majority of the delegation cannot agree on a candidate, the state’s vote is not counted.  For example, the state of New Jersey has 12 members of Congress; pundits expect a 6 to 6 split between Democrats and Republicans.  That gridlock could mean that despite what will probably be a landslide margin for President Obama in New Jersey, the state would not be able to cast a vote for him.

But the fun doesn’t stop there.

The Senate would then choose the vice president, with each Senator casting a single vote.  Should Democrats control the upper chamber after the Nov. 6 election, Vice President Joe Biden could take office alongside President Mitt Romney.

So why bother going through this hypothetical?  Because it shows that every vote counts.  Even a vote on a member of Congress could end up deciding the next President of the United States.

If you care about the future of the nation’s finances, vote.  If you care about the environment, vote.  If you care about health care, vote.

On Election Day, Tuesday November 6th, vote.

Blair Horner is the Vice President for Advocacy for the American Cancer Society, Eastern Division.  His commentary does not necessarily reflect the views of the American Cancer Society.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not reflect the views of this station or its management.