Why neither Clinton, nor Trump might be President

The White House [Image: Alex Proimos]
The White House [Image: Alex Proimos]

It might seem shocking to many, but the possibility exists that in January of next year, neither Hilary Clinton, nor Donald Trump will be taking the oath of office. The reason for this has its roots in the many fascinating peculiarities that permeate the United States Constitution.

Under the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution, the President of the United States is decided by a vote of the Electoral College, a rather antiquated institution which puzzles those with anything less than detailed knowledge of the United States political process. Essentially, how it works is that each state holds a vote for `electors` who, in turn, pledge to vote for a particular candidate. So the winner – i.e. Trump or Clinton – of, say, Florida receives its 29 Electoral College votes. In order to win the White House, a majority of votes in the Electoral College is required (270).

Here is where things get interesting. Under the Twelfth Amendment, if no candidate received a majority, i.e. 270 Electoral College votes, then it is up to the House of Representatives to decide who should be president from the three candidates with the most electoral (not popular) votes. Each state gets one vote and a simple majority is required.

Step up Evan McCullin. Evan McCullin is a relatively unknown independent candidate running for President of the United States. A one-time CIA operations officer and former chief policy director for the House Republican Conference in the US House of Representatives, he is a darling of the traditional conservative wing of the Republican Party. Although irrelevant nationwide, polling has him as little as two points behind Republican nominee, Donald Trump in the state of Utah. Trump is reviled in Utah, where a majority of the electorate are Mormons. Mormons are a group to whom values of humility, modesty and kindness – as well as religious freedom due to their history – are fundamental, but it is also a group which is also solidly conservative in values. Evan McCullin, a devout Mormon (he was born in Utah) and traditional conservative, thus has a significant base of support in the state.

If McCullin wins the state of Utah and its six electoral college votes there is a slim (albeit very slim) chance that this might leave no candidate with a majority in the Electoral College. In the event of this, the choice for president will be handed over to the House of Representatives. If, as seems likely, the House remains in the hands of the GOP, then McCullin may be seen as the compromise candidate. While House Republicans generally find Trump repugnant, this is matched by their distaste for Clinton.

As it is, Hillary Clinton’s path to the White House seems secure, despite the terrifying narrowing of polls in recent days. Polling has her consistently ahead in Pennsylvania, Colorado and Virginia. Combined they will push her to within three Electoral College votes from the White House. Still, the candidacy of Evan McCullin throws another spanner into the works in what has been a bizarre, unprecedented presidential election.

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