Why Evan McMullin winning Utah does not help Hillary Clinton become President

Published on October 20, 2016 by

I’ve seen a lot of people claiming that Evan McMullin winning Utah just helps Hillary Clinton get elected.

That is false, and I’m going to explain why.

First, McMullin winning Utah makes a difference in who is elected President in only one circumstance: if neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump manages to get to 270 electoral college votes. It’s highly unlikely that will happen, but it is possible. Fivethirtyeight.com’s model currently puts the chances of a deadlock at 0.5%, and the probability of Utah being a tipping-point state at 0.1%.

But let’s assume that it happens: McMullin wins Utah’s 6 electoral college votes and is in third place in the electoral college. That means the U.S. House of Representatives gets to choose the president from among the top three electoral-vote recipients: Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Evan McMullin.

However, under the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution, in the House each state gets one vote, and 26 votes are needed to choose the new President. That means Wyoming has just as much weight as California in the voting.

Currently, the Democrats control 14 House delegations. Three are split evenly between Republicans and Democrats. And Republicans control 33 delegations. Those number may change a little after the election, but unless there’s a wave of support for Democrats (which would mean a Clinton victory in the electoral college anyway, so it would never have gotten to the House) the Republicans will control a significant majority of the House delegations, and the Democrats will be several states short of the 26 needed.

Now, here’s the point where people who know enough to get this far tend to make their big mistake: “But the Democrats will be united behind Clinton, while the Republicans will be split between Trump and McMullin. That will allow Clinton to pick up the extra states she needs.”

Here’s the reason that won’t happen: the Republicans will get to write the rules about what determines whether a state is voting for a particular candidate. Because they are not completely stupid, and because they hate Clinton, they will write the rules so that it requires a majority of a state delegation to vote for one candidate, or else the state’s vote isn’t counted. So, if the Republicans in a state they control are divided between Trump and McMullin, Clinton doesn’t get that state’s vote.

Therefore, it is politically impossible for Clinton to be elected by the House.

So, even in the extremely unlikely event that McMullin wins Utah and blocks the other candidates from getting an electoral college majority, it does not help Clinton get elected.

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