Should We the People Vote for VP?

Is direct suffrage for the Vice Presidency the last obvious unturned stone of the American enfranchising movement? The original Constitution did not let people vote directly for President, Vice President, or Senators, and most states had high property holding requirements (not to mention racial and gender requirements) in order for someone to be able to vote for the U.S. House or other state offices (if those offices were even open to election in the first place). Today, every state lets its citizens over the age of eighteen vote for pretty much anything directly (even the President by binding Electoral College voters) except Vice President of the United States. Given that the Presidential ticket vote is the only nation-wide one, perhaps this makes sense so as to not risk the conflicts as seen through John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Aaron Burr, but is it really in line with the historical American voting movement?A brief history of the Vice Presidential selection process:

The original Constitution wording, which had each Elector cast two votes, allowed for two possible ways to become VP, neither of which required the VP to have obtained a majority of Electoral College votes:

  • 1) In an election where at least one Presidential candidate received a majority of Electoral College votes, the VP would be the candidate with the second-most such votes. If two candidates tied for the top spot, then the House of Representatives would choose a final winner and the VP would be the loser of that vote.
  • 2) If no candidate received a majority of Electoral College votes, then the House of Representatives would choose amongst the top five such vote-getters for a final winner. But, the VP would not be the runner-up of the House vote; instead, Article 2, Section 1, Clause 3 stated, “In every Case, after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President.” This meant that if the House chose the candidate with the second, third, fourth, or fifth most Electoral College votes as President, then the original Electoral College vote plurality winner would become the VP.

The history under the original wording is short but complex. In 1789, everyone assumed that George Washington would become the first President, so in reality, the other candidates were all vying to be Vice President. In addition, there was not an established enough party system structure by that time, so in the end, having a “ticket” was not really important. However, things changed by 1792, when there were Federalists and Democratic-Republicans; but, the party affects were still not greatly pronounced because Washington was again expected to be elected President. Then, in 1796, Americans witnessed its only truly open-field election ever. Though John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were seen as their parties’ leaders, they did not establish President-VP tickets; therefore, the country was almost certain to see one of them win the Presidency and the other one win the VP slot, which is exactly what happened, causing much strain during the Adams administration. Finally, in 1800, the parties figured out the necessity of having a ticket, but this, coupled with the two-vote-per-Elector system, caused the winners to tie in the Electoral College; though Aaron Burr was technically the VP half of the ticket, his tie with Jefferson could have resulted in the House choosing Burr for President had he not so personally upset Alexander Hamilton the year before.

But then everything changed. The Twelfth Amendment took away the “runner-up” concept and changed the Electoral College so that each Elector voted once for President and once for Vice President. But, there are still two ways to become VP:

  • 1) A candidate who receives a majority of Electoral votes for VP becomes VP, period.
  • 2) If no candidate receives a majority of Electoral votes for VP, then the Senate chooses the final winner from amongst the candidates “from the two highest numbers on the list.” This does not mean the top two people; therefore, any candidate who was tied for first or second place (and there could be ties for both) in the Electoral College VP vote must be considered by the Senate.

Since the Amendment’s inception, there has not really been a problem with the President-Vice President dynamic. Everyone has understood that a Presidential candidate’s pick for VP is not a questioned thing. But, in theory, the Electoral College could vote for one party’s Presidential candidate and another party’s Vice Presidential candidate perfectly lawfully. In addition, a perfectly tied Presidential election, where each ticket’s integrity holds firm in the Electoral College, could cause the House to choose a different party’s candidate for President than that of the Senate for Vice President. So, there are still loopholes.

In both the pre- and post-Twelfth Amendment systems, though, there is one glaring issue: We the People do not have a real hand in choosing the Vice President. Before the Amendment, many states still had their state legislatures appoint people to the Electoral College, and in the states where the people-at-large voted, they really did vote for the Electors and not for the candidates. Then, just as suffrage was becoming a greater issue, the parties began to run “tickets” anyway. Since the Amendment, there has been no debating; first, party conventions and then, in modern times, Presidential nominees themselves have chosen each ticket’s “lower half.” A vote for President nowadays by the people is a simultaneous “vote” for his or her running mate, like it or not.

My Point: Since the Vice President can become acting or actual President, We the People deserve more of a vote on him or her than a joint party ticket. While solutions range from the simple to the complex, and while partisan politics can throw wrenches in the process, the American experiment has grown to the point where the VP is the only office not in some way directly chosen by the people, and that has to change, if for no other reason than historical momentum. The adoption of the Fifteenth, Seventeenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-Third, and Twenty-Sixth Amendments to the Constitution all expanded suffrage rights, leaving only one more major hole left to fill.

As a note, Gerald Ford was the only President who was never elected by the people in any manner for President or Vice President, ticket or no ticket.


Vote on possible solutions to this problem here.