Podcast: Election discussion with social science teacher Tim Chevalier

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Emily Francis: Hi, my name is Emily. I’m a senior and I’m one of the Editors-in-Chief of our school newspaper the Talon. Today I’m talking about the election and what would happen if there’s a tie or if the election is contested. I’m here with history teacher Mr. Chevalier.

Tim Chevalier: Hey there, everyone. As introduced, I am Mr. Chevalier. I’ve been a teacher at Oak Park for a number of years now. I teach history, mainly AP US history. I’ve also taught AP government, CP government, economics and I’m also the athletic director so I’m here to answer some questions for the Talon on the election of 2020.

Emily Francis: All right, so the first question is, what would happen if there’s a tie, how would that process work and how would it end up being decided.

Tim Chevalier: So let me start by saying that this is a very tight presidential race, obviously, we’re talking on Wednesday, November 4, and the general election was yesterday and results are still coming in as we speak. There are a couple of states that are, you know, really really close right now with Michigan being one of those, Pennsylvania being one of those, Nevada, being another Georgia, North Carolina. It’s shaping up to be a race, all the way down to the end here. As many are aware, in order for a candidate to become president they must receive a majority of the electoral college votes, and that number is 270 that’s the magic number. If a candidate doesn’t attain the 270 that’s required and say for example there is a tie. You know, for example 269 to 269. Or in the case, there would, you know, if there had been a third party candidate that diluted the electoral votes, and no candidate was able to get the required 270, the election then goes to Congress is what happens. And it’s called a contingent election. And if, as our Constitution is written, if no candidate receives the majority, the House of Representatives, they will vote for the President and the Senate will vote for the vice president. So, that’s what happens if there is a tie, 269 to 269, or if no one candidate receives the majority of the electoral votes. To continue with that, I don’t know if you want to jump in with a secondary question. It has happened before in our history, where no candidate has received the required majority. It happened in the election of 1800, the election of 1824 and the election of 1836. So it has happened. We have constitutional amendments that have been put in place to try and prevent that from happening. For example, the 12th amendment which created two separate ballots for president and vice president negated what happened in the election of 1800 happened again when Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr tied in the Electoral College. So, continuing with the idea of the contingent election, if that were to happen, the House of Representatives as mentioned would vote. Each state would receive one vote in that, and their vote would be based on their congressional districts and how many congressional districts they have. And if they have more republican or more democratic congressional districts would determine if they would be voting for the Democratic candidate or the Republican candidate in the Senate who votes for the vice president, each senator would have one vote to cast for the vice president.

Emily Francis: So going off that the current elections with the House and the Senate do those have any, like, how would those impact if it went to Congress to decide.

Tim Chevalier: So that’s a really good question. So currently, there’s no real bearing in terms of the current makeup of Congress, because the 20th amendment spells out that if there is going to be a contingent election where the House and Senate will decide on President and Vice President, that would not happen until after the new Congress sits. And that takes place on January 1 of 2021. So it would be the new Congress that would be deciding who the new president or incumbent president and vice president.

Emily Francis: In this election, what happens if it is contested by either candidate, how does the process work in the courts and how would that take place.

Tim Chevalier: So another really good question. It’s already happening as events are unfolding here today. The Trump campaign has launched lawsuits to stop some of the voting, or some of the counts, some of the ballots from being counted. In the state of Michigan, they’re suing for recounts, in Wisconsin and that is because the margin of victory is within 1%, if the vote is within 1% in a state there can be recounts done if there is no concession by one of the candidates. So, you will see those play out in the courts. In terms of stopping counting, you know, our elections are done in a state by state fashion. Each state makes their own rules and laws which pertain to when ballots can be received and still counted. And so those are state by state, it is unlikely that the challenge is to have those votes stopped being counted, it’s unlikely that that would happen but you will probably see recounts in at least a couple of states. And you will see some challenges, the question of course remains is will any of this get all the way to the Supreme Court, where the Supreme Court has stopped recounts in the past as we saw in the election of 2000. So, it is possible, but we are here in the United States, we are a democracy and most states have made it clear, most State Attorneys Generals have made it very clear that they intend to count every vote.

Emily Francis: And what would the process look like for any of this to make it up to the Supreme Court.

Tim Chevalier: Well, the Supreme Court would have to be appealed to and the Supreme Court would have to agree to hear the case and there would have to be some type of legal footing, strong legal footing, that one of the campaigns would have to have in order to be successful. Like I said, the Supreme Court has waded into the waters, before, of an election, and they may here. But the way that the process would work is if the Trump administration, for example, wants to appeal it to the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court wanted to take it on and hear it, you know, I guess they could. But the Supreme Court is also of the understanding that they have to let the process play out to an extent.

Emily Francis: And then if either side contests the results, is there any frame of reference for how long it would take if it makes its way through the court system.

Tim Chevalier: I’m trying to think of precedents, there’s been a couple of elections where it’s been unclear exactly who the President was even up until the week before the transfer of power would take place. We, in the 20th amendment, moved up the date that a newly elected President takes the oath of office from March 4 to January 20, so I am confident that we will have a decided outcome on this well before January 20.

Emily Francis: Alright, that is everything that I have today. Is there anything else on this topic you think it’s important for people to know or understand.

Tim Chevalier: Yeah, it’s, you know, we have a very unique system of deciding who the President is going to be in this country, and it’s a result of compromise that had to be ironed out, you know, centuries ago, literally, to get this constitution ratified and yes it’s a very unique system. There have been different ideas put forth on how to change it. You know the popular vote is strongly towards Biden. But the reality is we have the Electoral College and voting is a process. I strongly encourage students, juniors and seniors if possible, especially seniors, if they can, and if it’s an election year, I strongly urge them to take part in the process and become a poll volunteer, in the future. Even if they’re in college, and they’ve moved on, but they have the chance to work in a poll during an election midterm or general. It’s a great way to learn about the political process in America, and it’s these types of elections that are really really close, and sharply divided, where you get to see the wheels of democracy, working, you get to see them in action so I would just leave it at, you know, we’re witnessing something historical, in the past couple of weeks and in the weeks to follow here. Something very historical and being a part of it is, it’s a really big deal. Students need to be educated on not just the policies of the candidates and not just you know what the candidates stand for and believe in, but students need to be educated into the process of how American democracy works because when we lose that piece that piece of knowledge, when we fail to educate ourselves on those things, that’s when you know that’s when danger can creep into a society. Thank you for the opportunity to answer these questions.

Emily Francis: Thank you so much for your time. 

Tim Chevalier: You got it. 

Emily Francis: Thank you to everyone listening. We hope you enjoyed and we hope you learned something today.