May 3, 2019
A San Francisco tech executive is behind a national campaign to change the way U.S. vice presidents are selected.
Rather than have presidential candidates hand-pick their running mate, David Blake wants Americans to elect the vice president separately. He insists the approach is grounded legally and could bring change for the better.
“Our ballot is where we’ve lost the ability to express a democratic say in vice presidents,” said Blake, who co-founded education tech platform Degreed in 2012. “There’s nothing that would have to change in our Constitution or in the amendment for us to be electing the vice president in this way.”
Blake and his wife, Mikel, are co-founders of the Vice.run website, which describes itself as “an entrepreneur’s approach to changing American politics.” He’s invested $1 million of his own money in the campaign, which has pledges of support in all 50 states after being online since March.
A survey commissioned by Vice.run found that 53% of Americans prefer the new approach to picking the vice president while 47% want to keep the current system. A total of 1,204 registered voters were polled just before the 2018 midterm election.
“The motivations that drew me into this are hyper-partisanship and the highly divided times we’re living through,” Blake said. He believes the office of the vice president has the potential to be “a bridge between red and blue.”
As Blake sees it, the office of the vice president can have a unique and powerful role to play in effecting change, because it spans two branches of government, both legislative and executive. He noted that the office of vice president holds power to break tie votes in the Senate and is the first in line for succession as president.
“This is a movement to reclaim our 12th Amendment right,” said Blake. “How we reclaim this is through ballot access.”
The 12th Amendment provides that the Electoral College electors vote separately for president and vice president.
Adopted in 1804, the amendment reflected the emergence of major political parties and let each party pick their vice presidential candidate, with the Electoral College becoming a certifier of each of the states’ choices. By the 1960s, it became a tradition for the presidential candidate to hand-pick their running mate.
“There’s no constitutional claim to the way we do things now,” said Blake. “This is an office that has changed over time, and it’s really an opportunity for us to look at it with fresh eyes again — and how can it be a solution for this moment in time, this moment in history.”
At the same time, Blake said there’s nothing in the Constitution that requires that the president and vice president be from the same party.
Before the 12th Amendment, each state’s electors cast votes and then the top vote-getter won the presidency, and the runner-up became vice president. In a tie, the House of Representatives decided.
Constitutional experts say it would be possible to have Electoral College electors vote for a vice president who wasn’t necessarily running with a presidential candidate. Regardless, some scholars are skeptical the change would have a positive overall outcome.
“You could have a separate election, but I think it would be a terrible mistake,” said Joel Goldstein, a professor of law at Saint Louis University School of Law and author of the 2017 boo, “The White House Vice Presidency: The Path to Significance, Mondale to Biden.”
“At a time when many of governmental institutions have not been performing very well, the one that governmental institution that has made the most significant improvement … has been the vice presidency,” Goldstein said. “It has gone from being sort of the ‘fifth wheel’ of government to a close presidential adviser and troubleshooter, really beginning with the vice presidency of Walter Mondale.”
The law professor said the current system of the presidential candidate picking a running mate makes sense because they’re both mutually dependent on one another. Also, he said, they essentially have the same political interests.
Goldstein said a system where the president and vice president were elected separately could “disrupt the relationship.” Also, he believes there’s a chance they could be from different political parties, or even if from the same party, they could become rivals.
“It’s the sort of idea superficially that sounds great — let’s elect the vice president,” Goldstein added. “But then the impact is you take one of the few institutions that has had a positive trajectory the last 40 years or so, and you basically reverse all of that.”