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Third-Party Candidates

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An A-1 story in Sunday’s Washington Post examined the frenzied activity surrounding what appears to be a diminishing number of Republican Party insiders to find and fund a candidate to run as an independent for President this Fall.


The lede by Post reportersPhilip Rucker and Robert Costa read:

“A band of exasperated Republicans — including 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, a handful of veteran consultants and members of the conservative intelligentsia — is actively plotting to draft an independent presidential candidate who could keep Donald Trump from the White House.”

As you are all too aware, I am most assuredly not a member of the “conservative intelligentsia.” I am neither that smart nor that conservative.

It is almost impossible to see how, at this late date, a citizen can be plucked out of the 323.5 million people who live in the United States who meets the Constitutional requirements (natural born at least 35 years ago, and a resident of the U.S. for at least 14 years) and can demonstrate the excitement, ideas, and philosophy that will allow him or her to win enough states to generate 270 electoral votes.

Alternatively, as the article points out, you might be able to find someone who can win just enough states to keep either of the two major party candidates from reaching the magic 270 votes.

That would throw the election for President into the U.S. House (and the election for VP into the U.S. Senate) under the terms of the 12th Amendment.

Here’s what the Constitution says on the matter:

“If no person have [a majority of Electoral College votes], then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote”


I think this says the House only gets to choose from three people who have actually run for President.  

“But wait, Rich,” I can hear you saying.  “It doesn’t say all three have to have won electoral votes, so all someone needs to do is get on the ballot of one state, right?”

Good catch, Sparky, but even someone with my limited math skills knows that if only two people have won electoral votes one of them will have gotten a majority of them (270).

The 12th Amendment also says that the House Members don’t vote as individuals, but as states; Wyoming gets exactly the same number of votes as California.


The Senate, for its part, does vote as individuals and gets to choose from the top two vote-getters in the election.  It is quite possible that the President and Vice President might be of different parties.

Talk about ‘cher gridlock.

But, before any of that can happen, the aforementioned conservative intelligentsia have to convince someone to take the plunge and run as an independent.

Over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries, third parties in Presidential politics have been largely the creation of an individual.  The Progressive Party in the election of 1912 (popularly known as the Bull Moose Party) was a creature of Teddy Roosevelt.

More recently, the Reform Party (election of 1996) only existed as a serious force in American politics as long as Ross Perot was its standard bearer.

The Green Party was a very big deal in 2000 when Ralph Nader was the front man.  Anyone want to hazard a guess as to the Green Party’s candidate in 2016?


Only if you did what I did:  Googled it.

The answer is, it is likely to be Jill Stein of Massachusetts.  (Oh, THAT’s right) You probably also don’t know that she was the Green Party’s nominee in 2012, as well.

See what I mean about third parties being a cult of personality?

The one third party that doesn’t quite fit the bill is the Libertarian party. In 2008 its candidate was former Congressman Bob Barr and got 523,686 votes or 4/10ths of one percent.

In 2012 the Libertarians looked to former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson who got 1,275,951 votes, 0.99 percent of the total.  Johnson is running again in 2016.

Third parties and throwing elections into the U.S. House make for good copy and fun coffee shop discussions for 2nd year law students but, at least this year, it isn’t likely to happen.


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