Terrorism and the Electoral College

by on July 12th, 2004

(7/13 UPDATE: TM Lutas has a follow-up.)

Over on Chicago Boyz, TM Lutas speculates that the real hazard on Election Day will not be in early November, but rather on Monday, December 13 (“the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December”), when the Presidential electors gather in the state capitals to cast their ballots.

A bit of digging at the FEC, The Green Papers, and the National Conference of State Legislatures establishes that a majority of electoral votes are concentrated in just the top 11 states. Security — if any — for the events that officially select the next President of the United States probably consists of one or two state troopers with sidearms. A couple of dozen determined terrorists could create a Constitutional crisis.

And to make things more interesting, in the event of a calamitous attack on these gatherings, 7 of those top 11 states have Democratic governors, but only 3 have entirely Democrat-controlled legislatures. Similarly, of the next 8 biggest states, which bring the cumulative electoral vote count up to a 2/3 majority, 6 have Democratic governors, but in only 1 is the governorship and both houses of the State Legislature controlled by the same party. And again, of the following 5 biggest states that round out a 3/4 majority of all electoral votes, only 1 has a Governor, State Senate, and State House of Representatives in the hands of one political party.

The relevant article of the US Constitution merely states that “[e]ach state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress …”

A worst-case event, in which the Presidential election is replayed in all 50 State Legislatures, and party-line votes ensue, would by my count result in 123 votes for Kerry, 128 votes for Bush, and 287 votes deadlocked. This would throw the election into the US House of Representatives, where each state’s delegation would get one vote. This source shows 204 Democrats and 229 Republicans in the 108th Congress, so without doing an exhaustive state-by-state count, I infer that Republicans control at least 26 state delegations.

The legal wrangling in Florida in 2000 would seem benign by comparison. Expect to see some serious security measures in place in the state capitals in December.

Jay Manifold