A Separate Election For Vice-President?

A seemingly out-of-the-blue political movement is arguing in favor of independent election of Vice-Presidents.

ABC News makes note of a strange idea that is allegedly “making the rounds” in some political circles, specifically the idea that the Vice-President should be elected separately from the President:

There’s a national push for voters to elect the U.S. vice president separately from the president.

Vice.run, is a campaign that seeks to create a separate and independent ballot line for the vice president in 2020. The group is trying to collect — from all 50 states — voter signatures and pledges in support of the separate vice president election.

“An independently-elected vice president would give American voters a new level of direct control over who serves in the White House,” Vice.run says on its website. “Further, a separately-elected vice president could provide a moderating influence on the partisanship of the president.”4

The founder of Vice.run David Blake announced on Twitter earlier this month that Utah became the first state to reach the signature pledges goal since launching their website in March.

Traditionally, presidential candidates and their running mates are listed on a ballot together, with voters selecting a joint ticket on Election Day. However, in the first U.S. elections, the vice president got into office by securing the second-highest number of Electoral College votes. When the 12th amendment was ratified in 1804, it required a distinct Electoral College vote for vice president and thus began the tradition of the joint ticket with the presidential and vice presidential candidates.

In some respects, what is being proposed here is similar to the way Vice-President’s were selected prior to the adoption of the 12th Amendment. Under that system, the Vice-President would end up being the person who received the second most Electoral Votes regardless of political party or regardless of whether or not they were the preferred candidate of the person elected President. This system worked fine in the first two Presidential elections that the nation held since George Washington and John Adams were essentially unopposed. By the time of the Election of 1796, the problems with the system were self-evidence.

Jazz Shaw at Hot Air comments:

[W]hat benefits would such a plan offer? I get that the original intention of setting up our current system was to avoid having a president and vice president from different parties. (That whole mess with Adams and Jefferson probably left everyone with a sour taste in their mouths.) But if that’s what the people want in some given election cycle, why not? Frankly, it seems very unlikely to happen as far as I’m concerned. Ticket splitting at the top would be a fairly radical step.

It would make the debates a lot more interesting, or so I would guess. You’d want to have more than a single VP debate and people would probably pay more attention. But the other question is how the VP candidates would wind up on the ballot. Would we need a separate vote in the primaries as well? I’d assume so. In that case, anyone who was doing poorly in the runup to the Iowa caucuses might consider dropping out and running for Veep. But what happens if the people elect a vice president that the president absolutely hates? We’d be back to the wild and crazy 1700s where the nation’s Vice President was left sitting out in the cold with no duties of any import.

In some respects, what is being proposed here is similar to the way Vice-President’s were selected prior to the adoption of the 12th Amendment. Under that system, the Vice-President would end up being the person who received the second most Electoral Votes regardless of political party or regardless of whether or not they were the preferred candidate of the person elected President. This system worked fine in the first two Presidential elections that the nation held since George Washington and John Adams were essentially unopposed.

By the time of the Election of 1796, the problems with the system were self-evidence. During the eight years of the Washington Administration, the nation was already beginning to break down into its first two major political parties, the Federalists led by John Adams and Alexander Hamilton and the Democratic-Republicans led primarily by Thomas Jefferson. Because of the strong divide already developing in the country, we ended up with Adams as President and Jefferson as a Vice-President who was largely kept out of policy making of any kind, a development that resulted in a hardening of the lines between the two parties. This all came to a head in the Election of 1800 in which Adams and Jefferson ran against each other again, but the result ended with Jefferson overwhelmingly winning the popular vote but ending up in a tie in the Electoral College with his intended Vice-President, Aaron Burr. This meant that the election was thrown into the House of Representatives, which took 36 ballots to finally agree to elect Jefferson President. It was in response to this election that the 12th Amendment, which created the system we have now where Presidents and Vice-Presidents run on the same ticket.

The proposal that is being made here would be similar to the system we had prior to the adoption of the 12th Amendment but would differ in the respect that voters would vote separately for President and Vice-President. It’s unclear exactly how the mechanics of such a system would work. Would Presidential candidates still be charged with selecting running mates, or would people run for Vice-President themselves? What would happen if a President of one party and Vice-President of another won their respective races? And, most importantly, why would anyone want to run for what is essentially a powerless office?

The more important question though is why we would want to separate the candidacies for President and Vice-President in this manner. One of the important reasons that it seems like a good idea that the President and Vice-President are both from the same party in that it would provide for some sense of continuity of government in the event that the President dies or otherwise removed from office. This is one of the reasons, for example, why many people question the wisdom of having the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate in the Presidential line of succession given the fact that there is no guarantee that they will be from the same party of the person they might be replacing. Holding a separate election for Vice-President, which could at least theoretically result in a Vice-President from a different party would end that assurance. Additionally, if a President ended up with a Vice-President he was displeased with he could essentially cut him or her off from any kind of role in the Administration, meaning that the Vice-President would be reduced to the role of breaking ties in the Senate and checking to see if the President is still alive.

Because of all this, I cannot think of any compelling reason to favor this idea. The Vice-Presidency is, as many who have held the office have noted, an essentially powerless office with the potential of becoming quite powerful under the right circumstances. For that reason alone, it seems to me that keeping the system we have now is more important than experimenting with an idea of limited if any value such as this. As our first Vice-President put it, “I am Vice President. In this I am nothing, but I may be everything.” For that reason alone, it strikes me that it’s worth keeping the office around in its present form.

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FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, U.S. Constitution, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Kathy says:

    Back in early 1991, when Bush the elder was riding so high on the victory afterglow o Gulf War I, TIME ran a satirical editorial suggesting the Democratic Party nominate George H. W. Bush for president, but with a different, more popular, candidate for vice-president.

    It was clear-cut satire, and a dig at Dan Quayle. I’m sure the reason it stuck in my mind was how quickly, and not long afterwards, Bush the elder fell from electoral grace, and into the lightly inhabited land of the one-termers, where we hope El Cheeto will soon follow.

  2. Gustopher says:

    I expect that anyone who would independently campaign for the role of Vice President has some kind of plan to kill the President.

    10
  3. Mister Bluster says:

    test

  4. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    I think that there is a good argument for abolishing the post of vice president. No one really votes for vice president and there is even the risk of the vice president conspiring with Congress to impeach the President.

    Several countries don’t have vice presidents, including Chile, Germany and France. It’s not that difficult to organize a snap election if something happens to the President.

    1
  5. Mister Bluster says:

    @Andre Kenji de Sousa:..It’s not that difficult to organize a snap election if something happens to the President.
    Help me here.
    Which Article of the United States Constitution provides for a snap election?
    (Whatever that means.)

    1
  6. de stijl says:

    I’ve played enough deep strategy games to realize that the high intrigue Steward is most likely to foment a plot usually pushing for gavelkind.

    Also agree with @Andre Kenji de Sousa in that a VP role is not really necessary, but we’d need a Constitutional amendment to alter it.

  7. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @Mister Bluster: Sorry, I used a term that’s only used in Parliamentary systems. Should have written SPECIAL election.

  8. Mister Bluster says:

    @Andre Kenji de Sousa:..Parliamentary systems.

    Question still stands:
    Which Article of the United States Constitution provides for a SPECIAL election for President?

    1
  9. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    My first thought was to revert back to the first and second place of pre-Article 12 days. President Trump and Vice President Clinton would make great kabuki theater. Not much else, but it would be higher than all this “Trump is a traitor/Barr is a sellout” crap [Jeez, we already knew that] we have now.

  10. There is no provision of the Constitution that permits a “special” election for President or Vice President

    1
  11. de stijl says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    revert back to the first and second place of pre-Article 12 days.

    Correct me if I wrong, but wouldn’t that make Clinton President and Trump VP?

  12. Mister Bluster says:

    @Doug Mataconis:..There is no provision of the Constitution that permits a “special” election for President or Vice President.

    I did not think so.
    I have read the document many times and there are still several clauses that confuse me.
    But I am easily confused.

  13. @de stijl:

    Correct me if I wrong, but wouldn’t that make Clinton President and Trump VP?

    Trump had more electoral votes than Hillary

    2
  14. Vivian Paige says:

    FWIW – electoral college votes are cast separately for president and vice president.

  15. The Dissident says:

    @de stijl:

    No

  16. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @de stijl: No, it was still electoral votes. Washington was elected unanimously twice, but he’s the only one.

  17. This proposal would not revert back to the manner in which POTUS and VPOTUS were chosen before the 12th Amendment. It would have an entirely separate election for both offices.

  18. James Joyner says:

    @Andre Kenji de Sousa: @de stijl: An inordinate number of Presidents have died in office or been unable to finish their term. It would be sheer chaos to have the Commander-in-Chief go down during a crisis and then have, what, the Speaker of the House take over? The Secretary of State? It would be madness.

    You don’t need a Vice President if 1) you’re not a Presidential system or 2) you’re not a great power. If you’ve got a Parliamentary setup, the next-highest-ranking person in the party (e.g., Chancellor of the Exchequer) slides into the PM spot. If you’re a minor power, the absence of a chief executive for a few weeks probably doesn’t matter.

    But a superpower? Yikes.

  19. Kathy says:

    @James Joyner:

    But a superpower? Yikes.

    Well, America has been trying for over two years, and it hasn’t collapsed yet 😉

    2
  20. al Ameda says:

    Amazingly naive proposal. Can you imagine if Hillary won the election but Mike Pence was elected Vice President, and Congress was Republican controlled? I can, and Hillary would have been impeached by now, and if not convicted, who knows wht else might have happened prior to the 2018 mid-terms?

    I heard this guy interviewed on drive time radio a week or two ago. He really believes this is a solution. Just no.

    2
  21. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I realized that it wouldn’t revert back to pre-12th. I was noting that pre-12th would be the only reason to consider this type of change–and then only for the theater aspect. As ideas go, it’s as stupid as voting for Trump because, as a successful businessman, he will know how to run government well. We don’t need to do something that stupid; we’ve already been there–and may end up staying a while longer.

    ETA: @al-Ameda–I’m having trouble seeing an electorate that would choose both Hillary and Pence, but other than that, the hypothetical argument holds.