To the Editors:
On January 6, 1969 (or shortly thereafter) the United States Senate by a vote of 88-3 (with 9 abstentions) may declare Spiro T. Agnew Vice President; thereby clearing the way for him to become on January 20 the Acting President of this Republic and leader of the “free world.” Only in America can a man with relatively no experience, the humble son of Greek immigrants, whose “best friends are Polaks,” become President. If my calculations are correct, sometime between January 6 and January 19, the Senate will be called upon to deliver us overwhelmingly into the hands of the former Baltimore County Executive who climbed the greasy pole by way of the PTA, the Kiwanis Club, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Baltimore Board of Zoning Appeals.
The following sequence of events is not so improbable as it may seem. For the past several months, as an interested observer, I have been tabulating the relative strength of the Presidential candidates. My final figures indicate that Richard Nixon should capture 259 electoral votes by winning 25 states; George Wallace should receive 141 electoral votes from 12 states; and Hubert Humphrey should win 13 states and the District of Columbia, worth 138 electoral votes. However, this will leave Nixon 11 votes short of a majority, thereby denying him the Presidency.
The election of the President is then, of course, thrown into the House of Representatives. That is, the “new” House whose 435 seats are up for election on November 5. The Democrats currently control 248 seats, the Republicans 187. However, all indications are that the composition of the new House will be even more conservative than the last, with the possibility that the Republicans will even gain a threadbare majority. In the 1964 elections (The Great Society landslide), the Republicans suffered a net loss of 31 seats, but they regained 47 seats in the 1966 elections. To take control in January, they would have to win 31 more seats, and the opportunities do exist in the South and East.
When the new House meets on January 6, 1969 to select the President, each state will cast one vote. One of the candidates must be chosen by a majority of all the states (at least 26 votes). The decision on how a state votes is based exclusively on the party alignment within each state’s Congressional delegation. Under this procedure members of the House are in no way bound by either the electoral or popular votes of their state.
We should therefore take a careful look at the current composition of state delegations as well as the prospects for November. The Democrats control at present 29 state delegations and the Republicans 18, with 3 split evenly.
One complicating factor in predicting the outcome is that the Democratic margin is extremely precarious in 16 of the present state delegations. In fact, a net shift of 2 votes in each delegation would take all 16 of these particular states out of the Democratic column. I therefore undertook a detailed analysis of the Congressional prospects in marginal states, considering such factors as trends in recent Congressional elections, redistricting in several states, and the strength of the Presidential candidates in various sections of the country. The result of my study indicates that the projected composition of the 91st Congress would, in fact, prevent it from selecting a President; that is, from providing the necessary 26 votes for any of the three major candidates.
If we assume that the vote is along party lines (except for 5 states of the deep South, where the regulars will vote for Wallace), Humphrey will get 20 votes, Nixon 19, Wallace 5, and 6 states will be unable to vote owing to deadlocked delegations that are split down the middle.
Let us look more closely at the 6 states which I predict will be deadlocked. It is fairly safe to assume that unless Arn Olson (D) gets beaten in Montana, which is unlikely, a 1-1 standoff would exist in that state. The Democrats should pick up a seat in chronically marginal central Minnesota now held by John Zwach, thus turning a 5-3 Republican edge into a 4-4 standoff. The Republicans should pick up 2 votes in North Carolina, leaving that delegation split with 5 Democrats, 5 Republicans, and 1 Democrat pledged to Wallace. The Republicans should win the seat for Robert G. Smith in Oklahoma to balance off the single-vote Democratic edge in that state, while in Oregon all incumbents (2 Democrats, 2 Republicans) should win easily. The Republicans should also tie up the Virginia vote by capturing the seat vacated by retiring Rep. William Tuck, thereby controlling 5 of the state’s 10 districts.
There is little reason to believe at this point that either party will be able to make a deal. In addition to a crisis of public confidence, the price that Wallace could demand would be so exorbitant that either of the major parties simply could not govern. There is of course more chance that Wallace would negotiate with Nixon; but most of the Wallace people would not be unhappy with Spiro T. Agnew, and, as it turns out, his prospects are considerable.
On September 25, 1804, the 12th Amendment to the Constitution was declared in force. It said, “And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a president…then the vice president shall act as president, as in the case of the death or other constitutional disability of the president. The person having the greatest number of votes as vice president shall be the vice president, if such number be a majority of the numbers of electors appointed, and if no persons have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list the Senate shall choose the vice president….”
The election, then, would finally be decided by the Senate’s choice of a Vice President who will act as President. Since the selection is limited to two candidates with the highest electoral votes, Edmund Muskie, who is probably the most qualified of all the candidates, is therefore eliminated. The Senate will be faced with the choice between Spiro T. Agnew and Curtis LeMay. If this happens, our laws will have finally caught up with us. There is no precedent in recent history for such a situation, primarily because of the inability of a third party candidate to attract wide popular support. However, George Wallace has effectively challenged our traditional assumptions about the electoral process. As a result, the bizarre implications of the choice between two obvious incompetents may be compounded by a constitutional crisis of the highest magnitude. This may in turn create a whole new set of political problems for a confused and polarized public which will be in no mood for Congressional wheeling and dealing. The country will then be faced with one of the gravest political threats in its history.
(Co-editor of Man Against Poverty, World War III; recently resigned as Director of Congressional Affairs for the US Office of Economic Opportunity. Northeastern Region.)
November 7, 1968