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Constitutional FAQ Answer #75

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Q75. "In the presidential election of 1800, Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson received the same number of votes in the electoral college. Congress chose Jefferson as President and Aaron Burr as Vice President using Article 2 Section 2 of the Constitution. How did Congress arrive at this decision."

A. The election was really between Jefferson and Burr on the Republican ticket and Adams and Pinckney on the Federalist ticket. The top two vote-getters were the Republicans. The problem is that since there was no separate election for President and for Vice President, they had two candidates from the same party as the top two choices — which was to be President?

The Constitution says that the issue is settled in the House. The kicker — the House was dominated by Federalists. To win, one of the candidates needed the votes of nine states (one vote per state, sixteen states, eight plus one needed for a majority); after thirty-five ballots, there was still no winner. Jefferson smoothed some feathers and was elected, with Burr as his second. The 12th Amendment was passed a few years later as a result of this near-crisis.

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