In 2020, Election Day in the United States will occur on Monday, December 14. As will be the case in most every state, West Virginia’s chosen electors will meet in the state’s capital of Charleston to cast their votes for the next American president. But which candidate will emerge victorious? Will incumbent President Donald Trump be reelected for a second term, or will former Vice President Joe Biden become the 46th man to hold the most powerful office in the world? And what of the numerous third-party candidates? There’s Libertarian nominee Jo Jorgensen, who is making a bid to become the nation’s first female President, as well as Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins.
Then there’s Hawkins’ Green Party counterpart, former Minnesota Governor and professional wrestling legend, Jesse “The Body” Ventura.
Do any of these less widely known third-party candidates stand a reasonable chance of winning the presidency? Well, as history has shown us, the answer to that question is no. However, improbable is not the same as impossible. The electoral college has been designed in such a way that any truly savvy politician, regardless of how unpopular they may be with registered voters, always has a fighting chance at becoming the leader of the free world.
Let’s examine the curious case of Birthday Party candidate Kanye West. Allow me to explain how this most unlikely of individuals can potentially become the 46th President of the United States.
In order to understand how such a situation could, in fact, come to pass, we must first become familiar with the inner workings of the presidential election process. As we all know, Tuesday, November 3, (the Tuesday after the first Monday in November) is the last day registered voters have to cast their ballots in the general election. This is referred to as the popular vote. Each state then counts these votes by district in order to designate their presidential electors.
In West Virginia, as well as most other states, presidential electors are required to pledge their vote to the winner of their state’s popular vote. Fast forward to the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December — December 14 for the current election-cycle — and these presidential electors cast their state’s ballots into the electoral college. The results will then be sent to Washington, D.C., where Congress will count them during a joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives during the first week of January 2021. The session is presided over by the current vice president; in this case Mike Pence. The first candidate to receive 270 electoral college votes will be sworn in as president at noon on Wednesday, January 20.
Each state has been assigned a specific number of electoral votes, based primarily on population. The caveat with the population-distribution method is that no state shall have less than three electoral votes, regardless of their population. Currently seven states, as well as Washington, D.C., have only three electoral votes to cast. West Virginia — along with New Mexico and Nebraska — is allotted five electoral votes. With 55 votes in the electoral college, California has more than any other state in the nation.
There are 538 total electoral votes currently divided between the 50 states and Washington D.C. Therefore, a candidate need not win the popular vote to win the election; meaning that the candidate for whom most Americans vote for may not become president. In fact, this has been the case in five of the 59 presidential elections held throughout our nation’s history. In 1824, John Quincy Adams was elected president despite Andrew Jackson claiming a larger portion of the popular vote. In 1876, the electoral college system became even more convoluted. Although Samuel Tilden had secured more electoral votes than his opponent, Rutherford B. Hayes, neither man had won the required amount to claim the Presidency.
Congress therefore established the Federal Electoral Commission, made up of members of the House of Representatives, as well as Senators and Supreme Court Justices, to resolve the issue. The commission ultimately voted in favor of Hayes. In 1888, then President Grover Cleveland bested his rival by more than 90,000 popular votes. However, Benjamin Harrison secured an electoral college victory, thereby claiming the presidency.
The ensuing 112-years were relatively free of electoral controversy. Then came the presidential election of 2000. In what has gone down as possibly the most infamous election in American history, former Vice President Al Gore won the popular vote by more than 500,000 ballots. However, as most of us so clearly remember, George W. Bush won the electoral college by five votes. Because of that margin, West Virginia was ultimately just as much a deciding factor in that election as Florida was. And then in 2016, during an election that is still fresh in the minds of every American, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton received 2.8 million more votes in the popular vote than electoral college winner and current President Donald Trump.
Now that we’re up to speed on how the electoral system works, let’s explore how Kanye West could potentially claim the presidency.
Approximately eight years ago, YouTube creator GOP Grey produced a video documenting how a candidate could potentially win the American Presidency with less than 22% of the popular vote. While the video is a definite proponent of abolishing the electoral college system, the explanation provided is thorough and the facts reported are irrefutable.
Votes at the state level are counted one-for-one; meaning whichever candidate wins more votes wins that state. For example, according to the United States Census Bureau, as of July 1, 2019, W.Va. has a population of 1.791 million residents. And, as of October 1, 2020, the W.Va. secretary of state reports that there are 1,268,460 registered voters within the state. So in order for any candidate to claim West Virginia’s five electoral votes, they need to receive 634,231 popular votes.
On the opposite end of the population spectrum is California, where their Secretary of State reports that, as of September 4, 2020, there are a total of 21,240,236 registered voters. Therefore, in order for a candidate to be awarded the state’s 55 electoral votes, they must receive 10,620,118 popular votes. In West’s hypothetical victory, despite a difference of 50 electoral votes, winning the state of California becomes less important than winning West Virginia.
After W.Va., West would need to go on a highly-improbable run that would see him gain victory in Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, South Dakota, Alaska, Delaware, Montana, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, Hawaii, Idaho, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Kansas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Iowa, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Oregon, Kentucky, Louisiana, South Carolina, Alabama, Colorado, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Maryland, Missouri, Tennessee, Arizona, Indian, Massachusetts, Virginia, New Jersey and Washington D.C.
Winning 39 states and Washington D.C. would be highly-improbable, indeed; especially when Kanye West will not be appearing on the ballot in more than half of the states he would need to win. On the other hand, wins in those states would give West the presidency with only 21.91% of the popular vote. This means that 78.09% of voters could vote against him, and he would still be sworn in on January 20. Improbable, yes…but not impossible.
The electoral college is, by no means, a perfect system. And quite frankly, an overhaul of our voting system is long overdue. But, in earnest, nothing about the state of West Virginia, or the United States as a whole, is truly perfect. And therein lies the beauty of our democracy, for there is no more perfect a system than one which allows itself to be continually perfected. This is why it is so important that every American who is eligible to vote does so.
The final day to cast a ballot in West Virginia is Tuesday, November 3.