Here’s what happens if the winner of the presidential race is not decided on Election Day

What happens if the winner of this year's presidential election is not decided the night of Nov. 3?

Posted: Nov 3, 2020 11:34 PM
Updated: Nov 4, 2020 8:44 PM

What happens if the winner of this year's presidential election is not decided the night of Nov. 3?

Well, the answer is spelled out in the U.S. Constitution. The founders of our country realized things might not go as planned. So, they included a few "worst-case scenarios" and how to handle them.

First, it helps to remember the United States is not a "democracy" in the truest sense of the word.

Our founding fathers were dedicated to the idea of "checks and balances," some might say to a fault. When it came to deciding how to elect a president, the founders were torn. They argued for months.

Some thought Congress should elect the president. Others thought the people should vote directly.

What they came up with is a controversial compromise called the "electoral college."

The electoral college circumvents a "direct democracy" by tempering the power of the people through the states.

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in 2016, but not the presidency. That's because of the electoral college.

The number of state electors is based on the number of representatives and senators each has.

In Alabama, that number is nine: seven representatives plus two senators.

The District of Columbia gets three.

Then, with the exception of Nebraska and Maine, all the electoral votes go to the candidate who wins the state's popular vote.

Maine and Nebraska divvy up the winner by district a little different. It's those 538 people who technically elect the president.

The candidate with 270 electoral votes, one vote over 50%, is the winner.

Now, they have until Dec. 14 to do that. But if the election is close, maybe there's a tie, maybe there's a dispute over electoral votes and they can't report on time, what happens?

The Constitution has an answer for that.

The voting moves to the House of Representatives.

The founders wanted the president chosen by all of the states, not just by a majority of people who might live in three or four of them. So, the candidate a state votes for is determined by which party holds most of the state's seats in the House. Each state only gets one vote.

California with a majority of democratic representatives would cast one vote for the democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden.

Alabama with a majority of republican representatives would cast a vote for Donald Trump.

Even though there are more democrats in the House than republicans, 235 to 199, more states have a majority of republican representatives, 26 to 23, with a tie in Pennsylvania.

In this scenario, President Trump would win reelection. This almost happened in 2000.

The vote in Florida was so close, parties went to court to demand widespread recounts. That would've meant no electoral college winner by the deadline, which would have sent the election to the House.

The U.S. Supreme Court stepped in to stop the legal battles.

George W. Bush won Florida by 537 votes, which pushed him to 271 electoral college votes and the presidency.

And here's something else to muddy the water: the 20th Amendment.

It seats the new congress on Jan. 3, but the president does not take office until Jan. 20. That means if there is no electoral college majority, the new House would choose the president.

If democrats flip just two delegations, there would be a 25 to 25 tie in the House.

Under the 20th Amendment, if that happens, the vice president-elect becomes president, and the vice president-elect is chosen by the Senate.

With a republican majority, that would be Mike Pence, but if control of the Senate flips to the democrats after the election, they would pick Sen. Kamala Harris to be our next president.

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