What if we elect two presidents?

What if we elect two presidents?

We are used to having a divided government — like the White House occupied by a president from the Republican Party, Republican control of the Senate and the House of Representatives in Democratic hands.

But what if we had a divided White House? 

New scenarios suggested in the Atlantic magazine raise the specter of a partisan fight between Republicans and Democrats over state legislatures appointing their own slate of presidential electors — taking advantage of holes in our porous Electoral College system for choosing a president. In that scenario, the Trump campaign might focus on swing states with Republican-led legislatures such as Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, using their legislative powers not only to undo the popular vote, but also to roll back whatever electoral votes Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenHouse Democrats pass sweeping .9T COVID-19 relief bill with minimum wage hike Biden to hold virtual bilateral meeting with Mexican president More than 300 charged in connection to Capitol riot MORE might garner.


Could this happen in America? It did. 

This actually happened in the election of 1876, between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden. Three states – Florida, South Carolina and Louisiana – sent in competing slates of electors. The parties were said to have planned competing inaugurations. 

When Americans went to bed on that election night in1876, it was presumed that Samuel Tilden had won. But a dispute emerged over 20 electoral votes. A bipartisan electoral commission decided the outcome, but it was a messy process and Tilden finally conceded to Hayes in June of 1877 — seven months after Election Day. 

We have come a long way since 1876.  Then again, we have come a long way from the democracy that was birthed a century before that election. In a time of deep polarization and political tribalism, many norms have been flouted. Our established, time-honored way of wining fairly is in doubt.

Americans like to have faith. Electors are usually “faithful,” but not always. When citizens cast their ballots for president in the popular vote, they elect a slate of electors who then cast the deciding presidential result. Having electors be unfaithful is against federal law. But in our nation today, violations of the law end up in court battles where polarizations and politics could play a role. 

Imagine a transition team comprised of both Biden and Trump officials.


It would certainly create a new form of bipartisanship at a time when a pandemic, which respects neither party, infects our world. 

One has to hope and pray that whatever the will of the American voter on Election Day, it will be honored and respected, and that we begin 2021 with only one president.

Tara D. Sonenshine is former U.S. under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.