The United States election process is designed to conclude on or very near Election Day. This year, however, doubt has arisen about the timely determination of which candidate will occupy the White House in 2021.

On June 15, 1804, Congress solidified the presidential election process when it ratified the 12th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which provided for separate Electoral College votes for president and vice president. It is interesting that questions about the current election largely are answered due to the 12th Amendment that came into existence to correct a situation that threatened to jeopardize the fledgling nation’s existence.

The original construction of the U.S. election process failed to differentiate between the office of president and vice president on Electoral College ballots. Thomas Jefferson seemingly defeated Federalist John Adams by a margin of 73 to 65 electoral votes in the presidential election of 1800. When presidential electors cast their votes, however, they failed to distinguish between the office of president and vice president on their ballots. Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr, each received 73 votes. With the votes tied, the election moved to the House of Representatives, where each state voted as a unit. For six days starting on February 11, 1801, Jefferson and Burr essentially ran against each other in the House. Despite 30 separate tries, neither person achieved the necessary majority of nine states. Eventually, an opposition-party House member succumbed to intense pressure and broke the tie, which gave Jefferson the 10 votes needed to secure the presidency.

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