The guy with the putter will be your next president

Martin D. Tullai

June 24, 1992|By Martin D. Tullai

AFTER heavy media coverage of George Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot for months, Americans are going to be shocked when Dan Quayle takes over the reins of government next Jan. 20.

Dan Quayle? President? Far-fetched? Not at all.

With the nation currently in the midst of one of the most intriguing as well as interesting presidential races in history, the electoral process as outlined in Amendments 12 and 20 of the U.S. Constitution could well thrust the vice president into the White House.

Recall that under the provisions of the 12th Amendment, the popular vote in each state determines which set of presidential electors will get to cast votes for the candidates in December. Each state, of course, is awarded the same number of electors as it has members in the U.S. Congress. (Maryland has eight representatives and two senators; hence it will cast 10 electoral votes.) With the District of Columbia having been awarded three electors by the 23rd Amendment, the total number in the Electoral College stands at 538. To win, a candidate must gain a majority of this number -- 270.

With three major contenders in the race, it is not only possible, but likely that none will receive the magical 270. In this case, the 12th Amendment provides for the House of Representatives to determine the victor. This body selects the president from the top three "on the list of those voted for president."

In this selection process, each state has but one vote regardless of its representation in the House. Hence, California with 52 representatives, has one vote, as does Montana, which this year drops from two to one representative. A minimum of 26 votes, then, is required for the victory.

Should none of the vice presidential candidates receive the necessary 270 electoral votes, the election for this office would be decided by the Senate. But note that this body is to select the winner from "the two highest numbers on the list." A majority of the total membership (100) would be necessary for victory (51).

That's the background. Here's the scenario:

Ross Perot selects Jeane Kirkpatrick as his running mate, while Bill Clinton induces Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., to join him on the Democratic ticket. George Bush and Dan Quayle are set, of course.

Following a spirited and hectic campaign, the electoral vote result reads:

Perot and Kirkpatrick -- 226.

Bush and Quayle -- 217.

Clinton and Bradley -- 95.

(These numbers are based on the "hypothetical example" offered by Theo Lippman Jr., the astute writer and observer of The Sun, who propounded this possibility in a thoughtful article on May 24.)

With no one attaining 270 electoral votes, the race is thrown into the House of Representatives for resolution. Here a deadlock results and none of the "top three" is able to garner the 26 votes necessary for victory.

In the meantime, the vice presidential contest must also be resolved because, like the top of the tickets, none of the running mates have reached the 270-vote plateau. But, significantly, in the Senate only the top two candidates for the vice presidency are considered. Therefore, Bill Clinton's running mate, Senator Bradley, is eliminated from contention.

Assuming the newly-elected Senate taking office next Jan. 3 maintains the present arrangement, the party breakdown would be 57 Democrats and 43 Republicans. Despite the Democratic dominance, this does not bode badly for Dan Quayle. Remember, he moved to the vice presidency from the Senate, where he had won respect from friends and political opponents alike.

Therefore, it would not be unreasonable to presume that he would receive the 43 Republican votes and pick up at least eight from the other side of the aisle to give him the victory. (Another scenario is possible: Mr. Quayle receives 43 Republican and seven Democratic votes, which gives him 50. Jeane Kirkpatrick also receives 50. This is extremely meaningful because Article I, Section III, 4, of the U.S. Constitution provides that: "The Vice President . . . shall be president of the Senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided" [my emphasis].

(Does the vice president have the power to break the tie in this situation? If one accepts the letter of the Constitution, he does.)

In the meantime, ballotting continues in the House, but the deadlock remains; no candidate is able to generate enough support to win 26 state votes. This continues until noon on Jan. 20, 1993. In this event, pursuant to Amendment 20 (3), "the vice president-elect shall act as president until a president shall have qualified."

And President Dan Quayle reigns in Washington.

Far-fetched? Maybe. Possible? Certainly!

Martin D. Tullai chairs the history department at St. Paul's School.

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