© 2022 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Government, Politics & Issues

Commentary: The election apocalypse; or how the Ron Paul-Joe Biden administration came into being

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 25, 2012 - I suppose somebody should tell this story, should record the incredible details before they fade from memory and are forever lost to history. The election that ultimately resulted in the Ron Paul – Joe Biden administration was the most remarkable episode in the annals of American presidential politics but it wound up badly overshadowed by the Mayan Apocalypse that followed…

Once the Earth’s magnetic polarity reversed, the electronic age went into an extended timeout. With communications scrambled, the banking industry paralyzed and GPS systems encouraging unsuspecting motorists to drive off cliffs, the public appetite for political intrigue understandably waned.

Yet, to the extent that business ever returns to some semblance of usual, what took place in D.C. in the aftermath of that catastrophe should be remembered for the sake of posterity — provided, of course, that our posterity will not have reverted to painting pictorial biographies on the walls of caves. Listen:

You’ll remember that the Nov. 6 election ended in an Electoral College stalemate: 269 for Obama; 269 for Romney. Due to subsequent events, the popular vote count was never officially resolved but it was undeniably close. Legal disputes over provisional ballots cast in states with photo ID laws left the exact tally in doubt until Dec. 21 when Maya-geddon erased all electronic voting records. Call the popular vote a tie as well — a fitting outcome for an intractably divided nation.

Needless to say, this non-result generated wild controversy and was extensively reported at the time. With neither candidate able to muster the requisite 270 electoral votes, it was generally understood that the next president would be chosen by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and Mitt Romney was thus widely considered to be the de facto president-elect.

But under terms of the 20th Amendment, it would be the incoming Congress that would make the determination and that session would not be seated until Jan. 3 of the following year.  Because the Republicans had maintained a narrow majority in the next House, this was not seen as a serious problem. However, the Electoral College had yet to cast the official vote.

By law, the Electoral College convened in the respective state capitals on the “first Monday after the second Wednesday” in the month following the election. That date fell on Dec. 17 — four days before the return of the dark ages.

Three Republican delegates proved to be “faithless electors” by voting for Ron Paul, the libertarian darling of the far right who’d been crowded out of the primary process by the party’s establishment. Initially, their gesture seemed to be symbolic. When the House finally voted, however, it proved to be anything but.

The 12th Amendment stipulates that the House must choose the president from the top three vote-getters in the Electoral College. The choices were then Obama (269), Romney (266) and Paul (3).

Additionally, the House votes by state in this proceeding. Each state’s delegation caucuses to determine which candidate gets their vote. The 53 representatives from California and the single representative from Wyoming thus have an equal say in who will be the next Commander-in-Chief. Although only two-thirds of the states must be present for a quorum, an absolute majority of 26 is needed to elect. Lacking a voting member in the House, the District of Columbia is excluded from these deliberations.

In the event, every state’s delegation made it to the swearing-in save those from Alaska and Hawaii. As of this writing, Hawaii’s delegate is still lost at sea and Alaska’s was last seen in Sarah Palin’s RV somewhere in the Yukon. But because Hawaii had voted for the incumbent and Alaska for the challenger, those losses off set.

Once the lightly populated Western states — where the deer, antelope and tea partiers play — realized their relative power, they voted as a bloc for Paul. The Democrats recognized that they were screwed no matter what happened, so they cut a deal with Paul supporters and cobbled together a 26-state coalition to elect the renegade, which is why Hillary Clinton is still secretary of state and Bill is the new postmaster-general. The world as we know it may have ended, but the ancient art of politics endures.

Meanwhile, it fell to the Senate to appoint the new vice president from the top two finishers for the office in the Electoral College. That made it Joe Biden versus Paul Ryan. Republican gains in the recent election left the upper house evenly split — but as Biden was still the VP until Jan. 20, he was also president of the Senate until that date. He could thus break the tie by electing himself.

Ryan appealed to the Supreme Court to prevent him from doing so, arguing that the constitutional requirement that “a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice” meant the VP couldn’t vote. Biden countered that “the whole number” referred to number of senators — not states as in the House proceeding — and that as president of the Senate, it was his prerogative to vote when members were “evenly divided.”

Ultimately, the court rejected Ryan’s suit, reasoning that because he’d been re-elected to his House seat, he had no standing in a dispute over procedures in the Senate. Biden subsequently broke one deadlock in a procedural vote as to whether he was eligible to vote on the matter in the first place, and then broke another to elect himself vice president.

And that is how the Paul-Biden administration came into being. In retrospect, the most bizarre aspect of this surreal outcome is that it could have just as easily happened without the Mayans…

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.