So I’m not seeing if anyone else has mentioned this, so I’ll go ahead and put on my “I got a useless History degree” hat, adjust my pocket protector, settle my taped-up glasses and dive in.
So, when the Constitution was first written and came into force in 1789, it contained Article I, Section 2, Clause 5 which reads:
Pretty cut and dried, no? Yet, I’ve seen more than a few complaints that this system isn’t exactly the best, as it basically relies on a convoluted and heavily partisan system to replace a badly acting officer with, often, his own hand-picked second-in-command, which doesn’t seem like much of a punishment or penalty. This is particularly true now, with the worry that a Presidency of Mike Pence might be even worse than the rampaging chaos of the Trump Presidency.
So why does this seemingly broken plan for removing bad actors from office exist? Well, like most things in American that are broken, we can blame partisan politicians putting their own positioning and legacy above what’s good for the country. You see, this system of impeachment would work much better at discouraging dirty deeds if the larger system it existed as a part of hadn’t been fiddled with. Now get ready…
ARE Y’ALL READY TO GET PEDANTIC?!
I hope you are, because today we’re going to look at the letter of the law. More importantly, the letter of the Twelfth Amendment to the United States Constitution:
The Electors shall meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President, and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate; — the President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted; — The person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. [And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in 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 whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.
How’s THAT for padding out the article?
Essentially, what happened was we changed from a system where the President was the one who got the most votes (in the Electoral College) and the Vice President was the one who got the second-most votes (in the Electoral College) to a system where the Prez & Vice Prez run on the same ticket and are voted on as one unit.
Under the original system, we could have had President Trump and Vice President Clinton. Technically, if both Trump and Pence had gotten the same number of electoral votes, the contingent election would have been between Trump and Pence, but as we saw in America’s first few elections there were often many other candidates getting electoral votes (in a much more democratic looking breakdown than what we have today) and it would be plausible to say in that system, we may have been even looking at a Pence v. Clinton final, or possibly some other situation with the House of Representatives casting ballots for states in a contingent election… and we all know how good the House is at coming together on a topic.
One can probably understand now how, with the impeachment system that was put in but never changed would have worked a little better back then than today. Oh, and in case you’re wondering why the system got so flummoxed that they had to switch to the Twelfth Amendment, while at the same time doing nothing to also amend the removal process, all signs point to what we call, in the biz, Partisan Dickery:
The Democratic-Republicans chose Jefferson, and the Federalists nominated Vice Pres. John Adams. Neither party was able to decide on a vice presidential candidate. At the time, however, the Constitution—not having anticipated the rise of the party system—stated that the candidate with the second highest total of votes would become vice president.
It was oddly difficult to find research on this topic. Political parties, which Washington himself warned against in his farewell address, went into business for themselves and put in place a system that was more about cementing power than it was about holding people accountable. If anyone says that the country is too divided now and partisan tribalism whatever is a modern phenomenon… well, take a look at the Adams/Jefferson years and you might change your mind.
And would repealing the 12th Amendment make things more “small-d” democratic? Possibly, but the electoral college is still a piece of outdated, antiquated, and oligarchy-friendly garbage that should have been removed years ago… but it helps certain people stay in power. Funny how that works.
I say, repeal the 12th and the Electoral College all in one go. Popular vote only: first place is the President, second place Vice President. Not only would that allow the selection process to be more democratic, but it would also inject a lot more accountability into what is becoming the least-accountable office on the planet.