Has Congress Ever Flipped the Electoral Votes in a Joint Session?

congress joint session

Congress is meeting in a joint session today to count electoral votes. (Getty)

Today, in a joint session of Congress, the electoral votes for President will be counted, broadcast on live stream and on TV. Some Democrats have stated that they are considering disputing some of the electoral votes. Has Congress ever changed or nullified electoral votes before? Is there any chance this could result in flipping the election for Hillary Clinton? The chances are very slim. More than likely, President-Elect Donald Trump will be confirmed. But there was one time in history when the House went against the candidate who received the most electoral votes.

Here’s what you need to know.

House Democrats Are Considering Disputing Some Electors

Reps. Ed Perlmutter, Bobby Scott, John Conyers, and Jamie Raskin are part of a group of Democrats considering disputing some of Trump’s electors. They must make their dispute in writing and it must be signed by at least one Senator to be successful. So far, it’s unclear if any Senators are going to sign on, Politico reported. Perlmutter said his goal wasn’t stopping Trump, but highlighting Russian interference. He said he was thinking of filing based on voter suppression grounds.

Meanwhile, Unite for America is encouraging Congressmen to dispute electors based on the idea that they are disqualified from serving. They said that 50 Republican electors were ineligible due to a number of reasons, ranging from residency requirements to being dual-office holders in violation of a state rule.

No One Jointly Disputed Bush’s Electors in 2001

In recent history, the time that Congress would have most likely flipped electoral votes was in 2001, after a very close race between George W. Bush and Al Gore. In 2000, Gore won the popular vote and Bush won the electoral vote by a very narrow margin. In fact, it would only take two of Bush’s electors’ flipping in order to make the Electoral College vote a tie and send it to the House of Representatives. The flip didn’t happen, so the next big push went to Congress’ joint session.

The Congressional Black Caucus had planned to challenge Florida’s electoral votes, which were at the center of a big debate due to a dispute over hanging chads. In fact, some people still believe to this day that if Florida had a full recount, the results would have changed.

Vice President Al Gore was presiding, and in order to dispute Florida’s results, they needed a joint dispute from both a member of House and a member of the Senate. As Fox News explained, they had plenty from the House. But as he asked each Congressional Black Caucus member if they had a Senate member to jointly dispute, each one had to admit that they did not. One Representative said she didn’t care if her dispute wasn’t signed by a Senator. But Gore said that it mattered according to the rules.

It appears that Congress is in a similar situation today. Although many House Democrats have said they are ready to dispute the electoral results in some states, there has not yet been word of a Democrat Senator ready to join them.

Even a Senator and Congressmen do dispute a state’s results, it still doesn’t mean the results would change. In 2005, President George W. Bush was set to be confirmed for his second term. A House Representative challenged Ohio’s electoral votes during the Joint Session, citing voting irregularities. She did find a Senator to dispute with her. The House and Senate then met separately and debated the issue, ultimately deciding the votes were fine and securing Bush’s second term.

The House Only Voted Against the Electoral ‘Winner’ Once in 1825

If, by some slim chance, enough states’ electoral votes were rejected, resulting in no one getting the needed 270, then the House would decide who gets the Presidency. Since the House is controlled by Republicans, and they can only choose from the top three candidates, they would be choosing between Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Colin Powell. (Yes, Powell got the third-highest number of electoral votes.) In this scenario, the votes would still most likely go to Trump.

There are only two times in history that the vote has gone to the House in such a “contingent” election. The first was in 1801, for Thomas Jefferson, and then in 1825, for John Quincy Adams. Jefferson’s vote was a little different: he won eight states to John Adams’ seven, but electors didn’t distinguish between president and vice president when casting their votes, causing a tie. As for 1825, no candidate received a majority of electoral votes, although Andrew Jackson received a plurality and the greater share of the popular vote. In a very shocking decision, the House decided the election for Adams instead of Jackson. This is the only time that the House actually went against the electoral vote (although in this case it was a plurality and not a majority.)