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Could history repeat itself in 2016?

Posted at 4:15 PM, Dec 01, 2015

On Dec. 1, 1824, the United States House of Representatives was forced to decide a deadlocked presidential election with implications that challenged the sovereignty of the young U.S. government.

And it is possible that our government could be in for a repeat in 2016.

The 12th Amendment states that if a presidential ticket does not obtain more than half of the Electoral College vote, the House of Representatives will decide the presidency and the Senate decides the vice presidency.

There are two scenarios where a candidate does not reach a majority: One is for the top two candidates to have 269 Electoral College votes, the other is for three or more candidates to split the Electoral College vote.

Since the 12th Amendment was ratified, there has not been an Electoral College tie, though Rutherford B. Hayes had to sweat out a 185-184 win over Samuel Tilden in 1876.

In 1824, it took four candidates to split the national Electoral College vote. On this day 191 years ago, the results from the 1824 presidential election were announced to Congress, and showed that none of the four major candidates that year had more than half of the 261 Electoral College votes.

With the top candidate, Andrew Jackson, well short of the 131-vote marker, the House of Representatives were forced to decide who would lead the country for the next four years. Despite Jackson having 15 more Electoral College votes than John Quincy Adams, Adams won the presidency with congressmen from 13 of the 24 states selecting Adams.

Could something like this happen in 2016? Perhaps, if Donald Trump does not win the GOP nomination and runs as an independent. His deep pockets and popularity would allow him to run a campaign akin to Ross Perot’s 1992 campaign. But the big question will be whether he is able to win enough states, or if he would take conservative voters away from the Republican Party standard-bearer.

The last time a third-party candidate received any Electoral College votes was in 1968 when George Wallace had 46 votes. Richard Nixon needed a narrow victory in California to win the election, and avoid sending the fate of the presidency to the House.

Since then, third-party candidates have not fared well enough to pose a threat, but that does not mean third-party candidates have not had an effect on the election. In 1992, Perot took 19 percent of the vote, and arguably helped Democrat Bill Clinton win in a landslide. Many political scientists debated whether Perot’s candidacy took support away from sitting president George Bush.

Clinton won a few traditionally red states including Montana, Georgia and Tennessee. 

Justin Boggs is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @jjboggs.