Americans usually don’t have a very good command of their political history. much less the way the president is elected. But in the election of 1876 the Democrat Samuel Tilden got 51% of the vote to Rutherford B. Hayes’ 48%. A slam dunk victory for Tilden one would expect. Well not really. In a hotly contested finish where voter corruption was rampant and backroom politics could be smelled everywhere, Hayes was able to claim 185 electoral votes to Tilden’s 184. Fearing a return to political warfare, a Congressional commission dominated by Republicans voted along party lines to give the election to Hayes. Tilden and the Democrats accepted defeat after Southerners were placed in the cabinet.
Although the 2012 election is still a few weeks away, and anything can happen, this country could be headed to a replay of Tilden-Hayes as Mitt Romney, who at this time larger popular support than Barack Obama, may find that he could be behind the President in electoral votes. Just a quick civics lesson – it takes 270 electoral votes to capture the White House. The President appears to have a clearer path to achieve that goal, especially if he takes Ohio. Romney still could reach that magic number, but it would be more difficult.
If the electoral process goes the way of Tilden-Hayes Part II, this will do nothing to diminish the divisions in this country and the partisan wrangling that has been at the heart of our political malaise. If this election becomes a popular vote versus electoral vote conundrum, look for recounts all over the map, legal challenges, political posturing, and a constitutional crisis.
Luckily we still have some time for those undecideds voters to make up their minds, and perhaps the polling is a bit off. But voter turnout will be absolutely critical along with what has happened in those 40 states with early voting. There are so many unknowns and statistical ties at this stage in the election that the possibility of another Tilden-Hayes controversy is not some wild prediction.
For those of you who realize that this may be the most important election in a generation, a Tilden-Hayes outcome is the worst possible scenario. Get ready to stay up in the early morning hours for the returns and don’t be surprised if we have a president whose victory will do nothing to heal the political wounds and the partisan gridlock.