|John Quincy Adams|
Anyway, to say that the world does not understand the US election process is an understatement. Most perplexing of all, though, is that most American citizens don't understand it either.
The US has done such a fine job of public relations that a majority of the global population actually believes the US is a democracy. In fact, it is about as far from a democracy as one can get and still have popular elections.
The reason this becomes rather important this year is that America's lack of democracy may play a rather major role in the November general election. It may, in fact, be decided in the US House of Representatives, an occurrence that - as far as I know - has happened only once, in 1824.
You see, the US has this quirky thing called the Electoral Collage. In fact, the US president is not chosen by popular vote, but rather by 538 electors who are apportioned to the States according to population size. To be elected president, a candidate must get 270 of the electors, or a simple majority. And that is probably the most democratic part of the whole process.
The reasons behind this strange and convoluted system are rather murky and lie buried in the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers. The simple explanation is that the framers of the Constitution deeply distrusted democracy and majority rule. As a hedge against it, they created this diluted structure to act as a buffer against a State or group gaining too much power.
For the most part, it works just fine and most people are completely ignorant of how it works or even that it exists. The inherent problem with the Electoral College, though, is that as the rules got modified, it became less flexible until it practically demands a two-party system in order for anyone to win.
Originally, the idea was that there would be no political parties. People would run for president, the electors would be apportioned the the candidates according to the popular vote, and then the top two winners would become president and vice president respectively.
The system was thwarted almost immediately with the introduction of political parties and Prez/Veep teams. States began to adopt winner-take-all rules to increase their power in the process, and ultimately the entire thing became something of an anachronism, though its rules haven't been modified since the early 1800s.
Even more bizarre is what happens if the Electoral Collage fails to give 270+ votes to any one candidate. In this case, the election would go to the US lower house, where one elector would be selected from each State (50 in all), and they would cast a secret ballot for president. At that point, exactly none of the popular vote would matter. In 1824, Andrew Jackson got the majority of the vote, but not of the electors. No one got a majority of the electors. And so the US House of Representatives duly elected John Quincy Adams.
Why is all this important? Well, this system almost ensures Donald Trump will win the election in 2016. Because the majority of Americans find both major candidates unpleasant, the interest in third parties has leaped exponentially. Yes, there are quite a few other political parties in the US, but people are carefully steered into one of the two biggies in order to avoid the Electoral College Trap.
Of interest this year are the Libertarian Party and Gary Johnson, their candidate, and the Green Party, with Jill Stein being their candidate. It's really hard to find, but there are a couple of polls showing all four candidates.
The wild card in all this is Bernie Sanders. He pretty clearly got the dirty end of the stick from the Democrats. Even though Sanders is an independent running in the Democrat primaries, that hardly excuses the vile email traffic we were treated to via WikiLeaks. Sanders has built a rather large following and sympathy could drive more folks to him now.
What we end up with is an independent candidate who really got whacked by the DNC and a very unpopular witch named Hillary. Sanders could jump to the Greens or Libertarians, pulling his followers and sympathizers with him, and draw enough votes from Hillary to dash her presidential aspirations.
Similarly, Trump is reviled enough that a popular independent could spring up and throw in with the Libertarians, pulling the Ron Paul and Tea Party voting blocs and deny Trump the necessary majority in the Electoral Collage.
In most scenarios, the third parties don't win, but they deny a majority in the Electoral Collage, throwing the election to the House of Representatives. At that point, it could go any way, since the votes are strictly secret; however, with the House being majority Republican, the odds are that Trump would win.
Any way you slice this election, it is going to be very interesting. In keeping with out theory that 2016 is rhyming with history, we wouldn't be surprised to see 1824 replayed. There is even a slight possibility, depending on how Hillary handles the convention and Bernie going forward, that one of the third-party scenarios could have Sanders winning for the Greens, or the Libertarians stealing the Electoral Collage by a careful strategy of getting just enough electors.
What is sure is that 2016 has all the right pieces to be one for the history books. If you thought the 2000 Florida recount between Bush II and Gore was fun, stand by...this year may have just gotten more fun.
In any event, it is safe to say that Trump truly has rewritten the books on US elections. It is likely that no matter what happens, strategy and rules have been altered permanently.