What happens when a state can’t decide on its electors
How Vice President Richard Nixon handled Hawaii's disputed electoral votes in 1960 is worth remembering
by Herb Jackson, Roll Call, October 26, 2020 (excerpt)
John F. Kennedy barely edged Richard Nixon in the 1960 popular vote, winning by fewer than 117,000 votes, or less than two-tenths of 1 percentage point.
He won enough states, though, that when Congress convened on Jan. 6, 1961, to officially certify who would be inaugurated two weeks later, Kennedy had an undisputed lead of nearly 100 votes in the Electoral College.
That meant three disputed electoral votes from Hawaii, which could have been a source of controversy in a close contest and tested our political system, didn’t really matter.
How Nixon handled those disputed votes is worth remembering, however, at a time when President Donald Trump is telling his supporters that the only way he loses is if there’s rampant fraud, and lawyers around the country are scrambling to brush up on the intricacies of the Electoral Count Act of 1887.
Hawaii was a new state in 1960 holding its first presidential election — a concept that’s also worth remembering as the possibility of adding Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia to the union is portrayed as somehow outrageous.
Turnout topped 93 percent in Hawaii. The state’s result was close, just as the nation’s was overall. Nixon initially appeared to be the winner by 141 votes, and the Republican governor declared him the winner. But a judge granted the Kennedy team’s request for a recount. As it dragged on, the judge rejected GOP attempts to stop the count. When the mid-December date came for the Electoral College to meet — this year it’s Dec. 14 — both Republican and Democratic electors sent their votes to Washington to be counted.
Kennedy eventually was declared the winner in the Hawaii recount by 115 votes, but the two sets of certifications were waiting when the joint session of Congress convened. Democrats, including Rep. Daniel K. Inouye, were ready to lodge an objection if the GOP slate was counted, but the presiding officer — the Senate president, who also is the vice president: i.e., Nixon — pushed the issue aside.
“He resolved it in a rather statesmanlike way by using parliamentary procedure,” State University of New York professor James A. Gardner said in a recent webinar organized by the New York State Bar Association. “He asked for unanimous consent that the votes of the Democratic electors would count. So he resolved this against himself.” …
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Newsweek Fact Check: Did Vice President Richard Nixon Reject Hawaii's Election Results in 1960?