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Roulette with the Republic?

I’m not a gambler. By nature, I am a planner and though I may not have ever discussed what I’m doing or planning on doing, I can guarantee you that it has been pondered and dissected at least 20 different ways. I usually have three or four contingency plans—again, all internal. Because much of this is internal and not openly discussed, folks often mischaracterize me as spontaneous or random. That notion is simply not accurate because I’m not a gambler.

With that said, I am aware of a casino favorite game, called roulette. I can thank the James Bond franchise for this exposure. In this game, players may choose to place bets on either a single number, various groupings of numbers, the colors red or black, whether the number is odd or even, or if the numbers are high or low.

There’s another, more lethal version of the game called ‘Russian Roulette.’ In this game, a player places a single round in a revolver, spins the cylinder, places the muzzle against their head, and pulls the trigger in hopes that the loaded chamber does not align with the primer percussion mechanism and the barrel, causing the weapon to discharge.

There are a variety of views on the 2020 elections in the United States. Some feel as if the election is testing the ‘load capacity’ of the Constitution—perhaps, stretching it to its limits. Others feel as if the election was rigged and its results should be contested—if not thrown out altogether. I have my own speculations as I am sure does each person reading this. Furthermore, after being inundated with text messages, mailers, phone calls, Facebook ads, commercials, and any other form of communication thought to mankind, I imagine that there are few minds that will be changed at this point. Each side has its own strongly held position on the election, its outcome, and whether or not it is legitimate.

I’m not a gambler so I don’t know much about the game of roulette. I’m not a politician so I am not intimately familiar with its ‘games’ either. I am, however, a student of democracy and an avid lover of our democratic republic. What little I know about gambling and politics is that there are often winners and losers. Also, the longer one plays, the higher the stakes get.

As a student of democracy, I am concerned at the fever pitch of the polarization. I hold firmly to the belief that the vast majority of Americans fall somewhere in the middle of ‘right’ and ‘left’ and that they are issue voters rather than party loyalists as has been the case in the past. Interestingly enough, if you were to take the historical icons of each political party, say a Ronald Reagan for the Republicans and a John F. Kennedy for the Democrats, I would dare say that neither individual would be able to be elected in his own modern party because they would not be ‘conservative’ or ‘progressive’ enough. I digress from my main point with that thought, but do find it worthy of pondering…

Regarding the level of polarization, what is most concerning is the willingness of the political players to raise the proverbial ante to retain or limit power of their rivals—whichever the case may be. The Democrats and Republicans are both guilty of this. In this case, I’ll be an equal opportunity offender on both sides of the aisle.

The Case Against the Democrats

In 2013, Democrats in the Senate altered the filibuster rules, lowering the number of senators needed to confirm presidential nominees from 60 to a simple majority of 51. Supreme Court nominations were excluded from the change. The rule change was approved on a majority line vote, a tactic that had long been dubbed the nuclear option because of its potential to blow up bipartisan relations in the Senate. This was termed the “nuclear option.”

The Result?

Short-term: this allowed the Democrats to usher through some of former President Obama’s appointees.

Long-term: the Republicans were able to use the same rules to push through

President Donald Trump’s appointees—even if only along party lines.

Diagnosis: Political expediency often creates shortsightedness.

The Case Against the Republicans

This case study is a bit more interested and unscripted because it is playing out live as we speak. As already stated, there are many who contest the results of the 2020 Election citing fraudulent activity. The Trump administration and legal teams have filed many legal challenges in states and even a case in the United States Supreme Court in hopes that individual states elections would be tossed out. Each one of these legal challenges were tossed out citing a lack of evidence or even procedural mistakes such as filing for action in the wrong state.

The next, and final opportunity to reverse the outcome of the 2020 Presidential election comes on Tuesday, January 6, 2021 when Congress must certify the Electoral College results. Nearly a dozen Senators (and senators-elect) and nearly 150 Representatives (and representatives-elect) have indicated they will object to the results.

Those planning to object cite the election of 1876 between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden as a precedent. In that election, results from several states remained in dispute with Congress ultimately creating an electoral commission to settle the matter. The commission ended up giving the victory to Hayes by one vote. Later in this article, I will share more on the Electoral College process and objections.

This political action, the current ‘nuclear option’ is what I would term playing ‘roulette with the republic.’

The Result?

Potential Short-term: this might allow for a second term for President Donald J. Trump—in effective routing Biden in a hail Mary play in the last seconds of the ball game.

Potential Long-term: If this is employed and successful, then will there ever be another accepted election? I can see many ordinary citizens refusing to vote at all.

Diagnosis: Political expediency often creates shortsightedness.

The final thought on this?

Regardless of whether one is playing roulette in a casino or playing politics in Congress, the stakes are high and someone will lose. There have been many a gambler (and politician might I add) who have lost it all going after one more win. As I am not a gambler, I would urge the use of extreme caution when rolling the dice on items of national importance. Let me be clear, every election needs to be free of fraud and every citizen needs his or her vote to be counted.

Electoral College Procedure

Electoral Count 2/12/1913

In the 1880 presidential election, James Garfield narrowly won the popular vote but swept the Electoral College in the Midwest and Northeast.

Since the mid-20th century, Congress has met in a Joint Session every four years on January 6 at 1:00 p.m. to tally votes in the Electoral College. The sitting Vice President presides over the meeting and opens the votes from each state in alphabetical order. He passes the votes to four tellers—two from the House and two from the Senate—who announce the results. House tellers include one Representative from each party and are appointed by the Speaker. At the end of the count, the Vice President then announces the name of the next President.

• With the ratification of the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution (and starting with the 75th Congress in 1937), the electoral votes are counted before the newly sworn-in Congress, elected the previous November.

• The date of the count was changed in 1957, 1985, 1989, 1997, 2009, and 2013. Sitting Vice Presidents John C. Breckinridge (1861), Richard Nixon (1961), and Al Gore (2001) all announced that they had lost their own bid for the Presidency.

Electoral College Objections

The House and Senate met in a Joint Session on February 12, 1913, to count Electoral College votes for the 1912 presidential election.

Since 1887, 3 U.S.C. 15 has set the method for objections by Members of Congress to electoral votes. During the Joint Session, lawmakers may object to individual electoral votes or to state returns as a whole. An objection must be declared in writing and signed by at least one Representative and one Senator. In the case of an objection, the Joint Session recesses and each chamber considers the objection separately for no more than two hours; each Member may speak for five minutes or less. After each house votes on whether to accept the objection, the Joint Session reconvenes and both chambers disclose their decisions. If both chambers agree to the objection, the electoral votes in question are not counted. If either chamber opposes the objection, the votes are counted.

• Objections to the Electoral College votes were recorded in 1969 and 2005. In both cases, the House and Senate rejected the objections and the votes in question were counted.

Amending the Process

Originally, the Electoral College provided the Constitutional Convention with a compromise between two main proposals: the popular election of the President and the election of the President by Congress.

  • Prior to 1804, electors made no distinction between candidates when voting for president and vice president; the candidate with the majority of votes became President and the candidate with the second-most votes became Vice President. The Twelfth Amendment—proposed in 1803 and ratified in 1804—changed that original process, requiring electors to separate their votes and denote who they voted for as President and Vice President. See Electoral College and Indecisive Elections for more information.

  • The District of Columbia has had three electors since the Twenty-third Amendment was ratified in 1961.

There have been other attempts to change the system, particularly after cases in which a candidate wins the popular vote, but loses in the Electoral College.

  • Five times a candidate has won the popular vote and lost the election. Andrew Jackson in 1824 (to John Quincy Adams); Samuel Tilden in 1876 (to Rutherford B. Hayes); Grover Cleveland in 1888 (to Benjamin Harrison); Al Gore in 2000 (to George W. Bush); Hillary Clinton in 2016 (to Donald J. Trump).

The closest Congress has come to amending the Electoral College since 1804 was during the 91st Congress (1969–1971) when the House passed H.J. Res. 681 which would have eliminated the Electoral College altogether and replaced it with the direct election of a President and Vice President (and a run off if no candidate received more than 40 percent of the vote). The resolution cleared the House 338 to 70, but failed to pass the Senate.

Contingent Elections

In the case of an Electoral College deadlock or if no candidate receives the majority of votes, a “contingent election” is held. The election of the President goes to the House of Representatives. Each state delegation casts a single vote for one of the top three contenders from the initial election to determine a winner.

  • Only two Presidential elections (1800 and 1824) have been decided in the House.

  • Though not officially a contingent election, in 1876, South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana submitted certificates of elections for both candidates. A bipartisan commission of Representatives, Senators, and Supreme Court Justices, reviewed the ballots and awarded all three state’s electoral votes to Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio, who won the presidency by a single electoral vote.

  • See Electoral College and Indecisive Elections for more information on Contingent Elections.


National Archives

U.S. House of Representatives


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