AUTHOR’S NOTE: The author of this blog post is not an attorney and does not claim to be one.
In normal circumstances, a presidential candidate needs at least 270 electoral votes to win the office of President of the United States for a four-year term. However, in an election that is not normal, it is possible, although, based on recent opinion polling, highly unlikely, that one presidential candidate could end up winning the White House with only six electoral votes.
Any scenario of a presidential candidate winning the White House with less than 270 electoral votes would, per the provisions of the United States Constitution that govern the Electoral College process (mainly the 12th Amendment, although provisions in the 20th Amendment and the 23rd Amendment also govern the Electoral College process), involve no presidential candidate receiving 270 or more electoral votes. The 20th Amendment, among other things, sets the inauguration date for the President, and the 23rd Amendment gives the District of Columbia electoral votes, so the 12th Amendment is the most significant for the scenario that I’m about to describe. Here is the full text of the 12th Amendment:
The Electors shall meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President, and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate; — the President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted; — The person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, 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; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice.
And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President.— The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.
NOTE: A portion of the 12th Amendment that was superseded by Section 3 of the 20th Amendment is depicted with strikethrough text.
Should no candidate receive an electoral college majority with at least three candidates receiving at least one electoral vote (either by being a candidate and/or through faithless electors), the U.S. House of Representatives, selecting from the three candidates with the highest number of electoral votes with each state delegation to the House counting as one vote, elects the President. In that scenario, the support of 26 U.S. House state delegations to the upcoming 115th U.S. Congress would be required for a presidential candidate to win the White House.
It would be possible for a presidential candidate to win the White House with only one electoral vote, although the most likely scenario (which I would give a less than 1% chance of actually occurring) of a candidate winning the White House with fewer than 10% of the available electoral votes (538) in this year’s presidential election would involve a presidential candidate winning only six electoral votes.
That candidate is Evan McMullin, a former policy director for the Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives who is now running an independent campaign for president. McMullin’s name is not on the ballot nationwide; in fact, his name only appears on ballots in eleven states, including Utah, McMullin’s state of birth. McMullin is only four points behind a two-way tie between Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump in Utah, per a recent poll by a firm called Y2 Strategies. Although most nationwide projections show that Hillary is likely to get at least 270 electoral votes, and, therefore, win the White House outright, if certain states fall a certain way, it would be possible for the presidential election to be thrown into the House, with McMullin being one of the three candidates that House state delegations can choose from. Here’s one possible, although unlikely, scenario (map created here):
Under the scenario above, Trump is denied an electoral college majority due to McMullin (who, for the purposes of the map above, is the “other” candidate) winning Utah and Clinton winning one of Nebraska’s five electoral votes (Nebraska and Maine allocate two votes to the statewide popular vote winner and one electoral vote to the popular vote winner in each congressional district within the state in question). This means that the House would have to choose between Clinton, Trump, and McMullin. Given McMullin’s connections with Republicans in the House, allegations that Trump sexually assaulted numerous women over a period of multiple decades, and Republicans, despite their party being in total disarray, being likely to control a majority of U.S. House state delegations after the November 2016 elections, there is a extremely slim chance that McMullin could end up being elected President of the United States despite not running a national campaign for president.
Evan McMullin would be an awful president. For starters, he’s opposed to the idea of women being able to make their own health care decisions, and he supports President Obama’s would-be-disastrous TPP trade deal, which would allow large corporations to have greater influence on American economic policy. Those are just two reasons why McMullin should not be elected to the highest office in this great nation.