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Understanding the 12th Amendment

Understanding the 12th Amendment

The Twelfth Constitutional Amendment provides for one of the most important provisions in the United States Constitution and is one of the Amendments that would change how the United States Government would be shaped and select its leaders. The Twelfth Amendment was introduced by Congress on December 9th, 1803, and ratified by the states on June 15th, 1804.

This Constitutional Amendment would provide for the process in which the President and Vice-President of the United States would be elected, creating what is now known as the Electoral College. Though there was already a procedure in place to elect the President and Vice-President, the original proved to have some fallacies which were made apparent in the 1796 and 1800 elections. 

Prior to the inclusion of the Twelfth Amendment, the procedure called for each elector to cast two votes, and those two votes could not be for two people within the State of residency of said elector. If one person received the majority of votes, that person would win the election. If more than one would receive the majority of votes, it would be up to the House of Representatives to choose one of those individuals to become President. If no majority could be determined, the House would choose from five individuals with the most electoral votes.

The Vice-President would be chosen by appointing the person with the second highest number of electoral votes with the position. The majority of votes was not required for becoming Vice-President. If there was a tie for second place, the Senate would appoint the Vice-President, with each member casting a vote. However, it was never included in the Constitution whether or not the current Vice-President could cast a vote that could render a tie-breaking decision. 

Under this system, the 1796 election resulted in having a President, John Adams, a member of the Federalist Party, and Thomas Jefferson, a member of the Democratic-Republican Party, being elected Vice-President. This occurred because members of the Federalist Party decided to use their second vote and disperse them among various candidates, which allowed for Jefferson to garner the second most electoral votes, and thus, being appointed to the position. In having two different party members elected to the President and Vice-President positions, the inherent differences in political agendas and philosophies would ultimately clash, thus making it extremely difficult to work together.

The 1800 election posed another problem with the original procedure, where a tie could potentially always occur if the Electoral College voted in accordance to their political party affiliation. This would result in the House of Representatives undertaking multiple ballots to determine a President. 

With the introduction of the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution, a new system would be implemented regarding the casting of votes. The actual structure of the Electoral College would not change, however. Instead of casting two votes for a Presidential candidate, the new Amendment required two distinct votes: one for President and the other for Vice President. A majority of electoral votes was still required to be elected to either office or position. In the event that there was no majority, the House of Representatives would choose a President under the guidelines of the original procedure.

The only difference under the Twelfth Constitutional Amendment is that the House would choose among three of the people receiving the most electoral votes, rather than the five prescribed in the original process. The Senate would choose a Vice President in the case of no majority, among the two having the most votes. If in the case that there are multiple individuals in a tie for second place, they would also be considered.

A new procedure introduced by the new Amendment was the requirement of a two-thirds quorum for balloting procedures. It also provided that if no decision could be reached for a President by March 4th, the first day of the Presidential term, then the elected Vice-President would act as the President. However, the Presidency term date would be eventually revised and changed to January 20th. If no President or Vice-President were to be elected upon that date, Congress would appoint a President who would meet the necessary qualifications to take that position.