Alaska may select our next president

Alaska may select our next president
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America’s most consequential congressional race for the outcome of the presidency in 2020 is being waged about 4,000 miles from the Washington D.C. beltway in the nation’s most unforgiving and frigid terrain. The heated battle between the Republican Dean of the House Don YoungDonald (Don) Edwin YoungDemocrats, GOP fighting over largest House battlefield in a decade Coordinated federal leadership is needed for recovery of US travel and tourism Alaska may select our next president MORE, who has represented Alaska’s lone At-Large District since 1973, and Democrat-nominated Independent Alyse Galvin, may provide the decisive vote should both Donald Trump and Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Obama to campaign for Biden in Florida Supreme Court reinstates ban on curbside voting in Alabama MORE fail to secure a majority of the Electoral College.

Under numerous plausible scenarios, this unprecedented election year could end in an Electoral College tie at 269-269. For example, if President TrumpDonald John TrumpJudge rules to not release Russia probe documents over Trump tweets Trump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Obama to campaign for Biden in Florida MORE were to hold all states he won in 2016, but lose Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Maine’s rural Second Congressional District, the result would be a 269-269 tie. The Supreme Court’s unanimous July ruling that affirmed the legality of states’ authority over their respective electors decreases the possibility of faithless electors, rendering a tie more plausible.

The failure of any candidate to secure a majority of the Electoral College would send the election for president to the House of Representatives, and the election of the vice president to the Senate. Under Article Two, Section 1, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution, each senator would cast one vote for vice president, but in the House each state delegation casts just one vote. This procedure elected Thomas Jefferson in 1801 and John Quincy Adams in 1825 as well as Richard Johnson as Vice President in 1837.


This means that the vote of the single member of Congress in Alaska would carry the equal weight of all 53 members of the California delegation.

In order to win in the House, a candidate must receive the majority (26) of the state delegation votes. Despite being in the minority in Congress, the Republicans currently maintain the majority of state delegations with an edge of 26-22 (Michigan and Pennsylvania are split). The GOP’s hold in three state delegations is tenuous: Florida (14-13), Wisconsin (5-3), and Alaska (1-0). Thus, the House races in Wisconsin and Florida could be decisive as is the single Alaska Congressional race that itself could be the 26th vote in the House to elect the president. If no candidate secures a majority in the House, the Senate’s choice for vice president would become acting president until the House could decide.

An Anchorage Daily News opinion column recently proclaimed “Nothing in life is certain but death, taxes, and Don Young.” The untimely death of Congressman Nick Begich in an airplane disappearance three weeks before election day in 1972 enabled Young to win. Young had lost the 1972 race to Begich, but then won a special election in 1973 and has prevailed in every race since. While Alaska ordinarily should be safe Republican territory, the 87-year-old Young — who is seeking his 25th term in Congress — is facing a battle in his rematch against 55-year-old Alyse Galvin, who lost by 6 points in 2018.

Alaska does have a recent history of defeating institutional politicians: Just ask Frank Murkowski who was defeated in a primary by the former Mayor of Wasilla, Sarah Palin. Political prognosticators like The Cook Political Report still rank the race as “Lean Republican,” but polls suggest a tight race with a July poll by Public Policy Polling showing Galvin ahead 43-41. In a sign of the contentiousness, Young’s television ads assert that Galvin has “pledged allegiance to Pelosi.” Meanwhile, Galvin recently filed suit against the Alaska Division of Elections to compel the state to reprint the ballots that omitted candidates’ political affiliation, but the court declined to issue such an order.

Thus, in addition to lavishing attention on Maine’s Second Congressional District with promises to lobstermen (Maine and Nebraska are the only two states that permit an electoral vote split), it would behoove the Trump and Biden campaigns to monitor the Alaska congressional race. Perhaps Alaska king crab fishermen should join their brethren Maine lobstermen in demanding more attention from the presidential candidates. After all, the winner of the Alaska Congressional race just may determine who is sworn in as president on January 20, 2021.

George G. Demos is an adjunct professor at U.C. Davis School of Law and a Partner at DLA Piper LLP.