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One More Day, Maybe

Yes, the United States likes to say it is a true democracy, but, in fact, it is not
By The News · 07 of November 2016 09:12:13
Oregon ballot box, No available, photo: Wikipedia

The wait is almost over.

The cliffhanging, nail-biting, rollercoaster ride of U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton versus her GOP nemesis Donald Trump will finally be resolved on Tuesday, Nov. 8, and the end of the down-and-dirty political marathon will come none too soon for most voters and observers.

But while the populous vote will definitely conclude tomorrow, there is a chance — slim though it may be — that the topsy-turvy partisan slugfest will drag on for yet another week or so … or, possibly, even longer.

How you ask (no doubt praying, “say it ain’t so”)?

It all has to do with the tortuously convoluted, serpentine electoral system in the United States.

Yes, the United States likes to say it is a true democracy (and is more than willing to preach the democratic gospel to the rest of the world), but, in fact, it is not.

At least, it is not a direct democracy, as is Mexico and many other countries in the hemisphere.

What the United States is is a representative democracy, which is a democratic political system in which citizens vote for representatives (who make up the Electoral College), who, in turn, vote for their leaders.

The concept is great on paper, and was extremely practical when it was first drafted by the United States’ Founding Fathers, back in the days when there were no computers or the internet.

But somewhere along the way, the electoral system — clearly outlined in the U.S. Constitution’s 17th Amendment — got bogged down in individual state politics and a Kafkian maze of primaries and caucuses (which is how we got stuck with having to choose between Clinton and Trump).

But all that aside, the point is that, in accordance with the current U.S. electoral system, when voters go to the polls tomorrow to cast their ballots, they will be deciding how their respective states’ Electoral College votes will be divided (some are based on the percentage of voters who support a particular party, and some are winner-take-all, which again, distorts the direct democratic vote count — just ask Al Gore).

There are currently a total of 538 Electoral College votes, and to be elected, a candidate must win a clear majority of 270 votes.

However — and this is where the process gets thorny — if no candidate wins the magic 270 Electoral College votes needed to be declared president, the entire election results are essentially voided and (unlike in many countries where a runoff vote would be held), the U.S. House is in charge of choosing between the top three candidates.

Since in this particular election, there are three strong independent candidates — including the Libertarian former CIA operative Evan McMullin, who is quickly gaining steam, not only in his native Utah but in serval other southern states and even Florida — and since at last count, Clinton and Trump were in a dead heat at the polls, there is a very really possibility that neither one of them will get 270 votes.

The idea may seem strange, but, in fact, there is historical precedence.

Back in 1824, the U.S. House got the chance to flex its political muscles by choosing John Quincy Adams as president over Andrew Jackson.

So, if no one wins the mandatory 270 votes, the decision process could drag on as the Republic House makes horse deals with the Democrats to determine who will be the next president of the United States.

And if that is enough to scare you, in the case that there is no outright 270 Electoral Vote winner, the vice president is decided by the U.S. Senate.

Thérèse Margolis can be reached at therese.margolis@gmail.com.