by Outside the Beltway
May 6, 2019
ABC News makes note of a strange idea that is allegedly “making the rounds” in some political circles, specifically the idea that the Vice-President should be elected separately from the President:
Vice.run, is a campaign that seeks to create a separate and independent ballot line for the vice president in 2020. The group is trying to collect — from all 50 states — voter signatures and pledges in support of the separate vice president election.
“An independently-elected vice president would give American voters a new level of direct control over who serves in the White House,” Vice.run says on its website. “Further, a separately-elected vice president could provide a moderating influence on the partisanship of the president.”4
The founder of Vice.run David Blake announced on Twitter earlier this month that Utah became the first state to reach the signature pledges goal since launching their website in March.
Traditionally, presidential candidates and their running mates are listed on a ballot together, with voters selecting a joint ticket on Election Day. However, in the first U.S. elections, the vice president got into office by securing the second-highest number of Electoral College votes. When the 1
2th amendment was ratified in 1804, it required a distinct Electoral College vote for vice president and thus began the tradition of the joint ticket with the presidential and vice presidential candidates.
In some respects, what is being proposed here is similar to the way Vice-President’s were selected prior to the adoption of the 12th Amendment. Under that system, the Vice-President would end up being the person who received the second most Electoral Votes regardless of political party or regardless of whether or not they were the preferred candidate of the person elected President. This system worked fine in the first two Presidential elections that the nation held since George Washington and John Adams were essentially unopposed. By the time of the Election of 1796, the problems with the system were self-evidence.
Jazz Shaw at Hot Air comments:
[W]hat benefits would such a plan offer? I get that the original intention of setting up our current system was to avoid having a president and vice president from different parties. (That whole mess with Adams and Jefferson probably left everyone with a sour taste in their mouths.) But if that’s what the people want in some given election cycle, why not? Frankly, it seems very unlikely to happen as far as I’m concerned. Ticket splitting at the top would be a fairly radical step.
It would make the debates a lot more interesting, or so I would guess. You’d want to have more than a single VP debate and people would probably pay more attention. But the other question is how the VP candidates would wind up on the ballot. Would we need a separate vote in the primaries as well? I’d assume so. In that case, anyone who was doing poorly in the runup to the Iowa caucuses might consider dropping out and running for Veep. But what happens if the people elect a vice president that the president absolutely hates? We’d be back to the wild and crazy 1700s where the nation’s Vice President was left sitting out in the cold with no duties of any import.
In some respects, what is being proposed here is similar to the way Vice-President’s were selected prior to the adoption of the 12th Amendment. Under that system, the Vice-President would end up being the person who received the second most Electoral Votes regardless of political party or regardless of whether or not they were the preferred candidate of the person elected President. This system worked fine in the first two Presidential elections that the nation held since George Washington and John Adams were essentially unopposed.
By the time of the Election of 1796, the problems with the system were self-evidence. During the eight years of the Washington Administration, the nation was already beginning to break down into its first two major political parties, the Federalists led by John Adams and Alexander Hamilton and the Democratic-Republicans led primarily by Thomas Jefferson. Because of the strong divide already developing in the country, we ended up with Adams as President and Jefferson as a Vice-President who was largely kept out of policy making of any kind, a development that resulted in a hardening of the lines between the two parties. This all came to a head in the Election of 1800 in which Adams and Jefferson ran against each other again, but the result ended with Jefferson overwhelmingly winning the popular vote but ending up in a tie in the Electoral College with his intended Vice-President, Aaron Burr. This meant that the election was thrown into the House of Representatives, which took 36 ballots to finally agree to elect Jefferson President. It was in response to this election that the 12th Amendment, which created the system we have now where Presidents and Vice-Presidents run on the same ticket.
The proposal that is being made here would be similar to the system we had prior to the adoption of the 12th Amendment but would differ in the respect that voters would vote separately for President and Vice-President. It’s unclear exactly how the mechanics of such a system would work. Would Presidential candidates still be charged with selecting running mates, or would people run for Vice-President themselves? What would happen if a President of one party and Vice-President of another won their respective races? And, most importantly, why would anyone want to run for what is essentially a powerless office?
The more important question though is why we would want to separate the candidacies for President and Vice-President in this manner. One of the important reasons that it seems like a good idea that the President and Vice-President are both from the same party in that it would provide for some sense of continuity of government in the event that the President dies or otherwise removed from office. This is one of the reasons, for example, why many people question the wisdom of having the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate in the Presidential line of succession given the fact that there is no guarantee that they will be from the same party of the person they might be replacing. Holding a separate election for Vice-President, which could at least theoretically result in a Vice-President from a different party would end that assurance. Additionally, if a President ended up with a Vice-President he was displeased with he could essentially cut him or her off from any kind of role in the Administration, meaning that the Vice-President would be reduced to the role of breaking ties in the Senate and checking to see if the President is still alive.
Because of all this, I cannot think of any compelling reason to favor this idea. The Vice-Presidency is, as many who have held the office have noted, an essentially powerless office with the potential of becoming quite powerful under the right circumstances. For that reason alone, it seems to me that keeping the system we have now is more important than experimenting with an idea of limited if any value such as this. As our first Vice-President put it, “I am Vice President. In this I am nothing, but I may be everything.” For that reason alone, it strikes me that it’s worth keeping the office around in its present form.