A couple weeks ago, we hosted Sen. Tom Harkin and a few of his friends from the Democratic Party to discuss the 2012 presidential campaign and why they felt President Barack Obama deserved four more years in office rather than his opponent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Honestly, I expected him to give a very quick answer to my question about the possibility of Congress determining the election, one way or another. After all, it was making headlines that day that NBC was preparing for the possibility in its newsroom.
Since he’s been in Congress — either as a Representative or a Senator — for about as long as I’ve been alive, I figured he had at some point in time thought about it and already had a prepared answer.
I guess we were both surprised.
Afterward, a couple of folks accused me of some “gotcha journalism” for asking about the possibility of a 269-269 tie in the Electoral College and how he would vote for Vice President in that case.
News media ranging from NBC to CNN have since begun game planning the “what if” scenarios of that possibility. And just about every major news outlet covering the election has reported on the possibility.
So, it wasn’t an “imaginary question drawn up from some kooky right-wing conspiracy mindset,” as one of you put it.
If you’d like to know just how real a possibility it is, take the Electoral College map from 2004 and swap Nevada and Ohio over to President Obama. If you’re following the polls, you’ll know that’s a very realistic scenario.
And based on the redrawn electoral map after reapportionment, that would create a 269-269 tie in the Electoral College.
That alone would create chaos of epic proportions, but it doesn’t take a tie to create bedlam in the Beltway. All it takes is for no candidate to reach 270 Electoral Votes, which is the threshold required by the Constitution for anyone to be elected President.
Given the situation in Virginia, where Constitution Party candidate Virgil Goode was polling ahead of both Obama and Romney at certain points, that’s not outside the realm of possibility, either. And if that happens, Congress will decide the winner of the election.
The House of Representatives will choose the President by voting in blocs by state. Each state’s representatives will come to a consensus to cast a single vote. The Constitution doesn’t specify how that is done, so there would no doubt be some intense legal and legislative wrangling over it — if necessary.
If you want to know how intense it will get, you need look no further than the Election of 1876, which resulted in the Compromise of 1877 that effectively ended Reconstruction in the South after the Civil War. Having an election end like that so close to end of official hostilities probably had quite a few hairs standing up on folks’ necks.
Now, it’s important to recognize that the old Congress certifies the election. So, there’s a very strong likelihood the House would vote for Romney. In the Senate, where each individual senator will cast a vote for the new Vice President, there’s every indication that Joe Biden would get a second term.
It wouldn’t be the first time a Republican President had a Democratic Vice President. Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson fit the same bill when they ran on the National Unity ticket in the Election of 1864.
Of course, based on his answer, it would appear Sen. Harkin doesn’t think it’s a good idea to have a President and Vice President from different parties, even if it has happened before. He said he would like to take his cues from the House, if that eventuality arises, and vote for the candidate who matches the winner of the presidential vote.
So, see, I guess maybe it was a valid question after all. We’re just going to have to wait a few more days to see how valid.
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Bob Eschliman is editor of the Daily News. He may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 423, or at firstname.lastname@example.org via email.