The Electoral College and the Election of 2016: Some Possibilities
Can a Third-Party Candidate Like Evan McMullin Make a Difference in the Election?
Can a Third-Party presidential candidate actually win the White House? The rules for getting on the ballot are different in each state. Gary Johnson and his Libertarian Party are on the ballot in all 50 states, while Jill Stein of the Green Party is on the ballot in only 45 states. Independent Evan McMullin, who some Republicans see as a more palatable conservative option than Donald Trump, is on the ballot in only 37 states. Which brings up the question, can a candidate who is not on the ballot in all 50 states theoretically win?
The Presidential election is, in essence, really 51 separate elections, each run by the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia. When we vote for our choice for president in November, despite the name on the ballot (Trump, Clinton, Johnson, Stein, McMullin, etc.) in reality, we are casting votes for a group of people called Electors. These electors are the ones who really choose the president. Each of the campaigns (Trump, Clinton, etc.) select people they feel are loyal to them to serve as their potential electors, who, together, form the Electoral College. In this case, the term college refers to a group of people, not a university.
After the election, on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December (December 19, 2016), the electors meet in their respective States to cast their votes for President and Vice President of the United States. The candidate who gets 270 of these Electoral Votes wins the election.
Each state has a number of Electoral Votes based on population. The more people in a state, them more important that state is in the presidential election. Based on the numbers needed to win, a candidate COULD win the presidency by winning only eleven (yes, only 11) states. The biggest states by population and Electoral Votes are listed below, and yes, they equal the 270 Electoral Votes needed to win.
California (55 votes)
Texas (38 votes)
Florida (29 votes)
New York (29 votes)
Illinois (20 votes)
Pennsylvania (20 votes)
Ohio (18 votes)
Georgia (16 votes)
Michigan (16 votes)
North Carolina (15 votes)
New Jersey (14 votes)
If McMullin, for example, is on the ballot (or a viable write-in option) in these states (or at least, in enough states), in theory, he could win. Of course, more likely is that Clinton or Trump will win, since they have the name recognition, millions of followers, millions of dollars for campaign organizations in all 50 states (+D.C.), and money for political advertising. As of recent polling, Evan McMullin is in a close race with both Clinton and Trump in Utah. The Deseret News poll had Hillary Clinton at 26 %, Donald Trump 26 %, and Evan McMullin at 22%, and pro-choice Libertarian Gary Johnson at 14%. The relative unknown, pro-life conservative McMullin, who is a member of the LDS Church, actually has a reasonable chance to win Utah’s six electoral votes. In a close electoral matchup, this could keep either Clinton or Trump from reaching 270 electoral votes. Were that to occur, the newly-elected House of Representatives then chooses the next president from among the top three candidates in terms of electoral votes. This has actually happened twice before, and, with Republican control of the House no longer a sure thing with the current GOP Civil War.
This is turning out to be a very interesting election!