The Constitution of the United States – Part 11
The Twelfth Amendment
This amendment was important but not as interesting as many of them. As noted earlier, each Amendment to the Constitution came about for a reason – to overrule a Supreme Court decision, to force a societal change, or to revise the details of the Constitution. ~ www.usconstitution.net The Twelfth Amendment falls into the latter category.
The Twelfth Amendment was designed to correct the deficiencies in the Electoral College process after the problems encountered in the 1796 and 1804 elections.
Originally, electors voted for two individuals. The one with the most votes became President; the second place winner became Vice-President. This worked well until the two-party system became established and the original system made it possible to have the President from one party and the Vice-President from another party, as was the case in 1796 when John Adams, a Federalist, was elected President and Thomas Jefferson, a Democratic Republican, was elected Vice-President – which, as you can imagine, was a little awkward. It would be like having Donald Trump elected President and Hillary Clinton winning the Vice-President slot.
In the election of 1800, the flaws became even more apparent: Jefferson and Aaron Burr each got 73 votes in the electoral college, forcing the House of Representatives to choose which would become President. It took 36 ballots for Jefferson to emerge the winner, with Burr becoming Vice-President.
So the Twelfth Amendment provides a procedure by which the President and Vice-President are elected separately, replacing the process designated under Article II, Section 1, Clause 3. ~ The Making of America
Where there are only two major parties, there is no question about one of them having a majority of votes; however, the Framers anticipated the possibility of several parties and required that the person who is elected must have a “majority” of the electoral votes. ~ The Making of America
This Amendment also gave Congress, meeting in a joint session, the RIGHT to observe the opening of ballots and counting of the votes (to keep everyone honest). In this electronic age, this is largely a ceremonial and impressively tangible way to officially announce who will be inaugurated on January 20. In striving for separation of powers, our Founders established that the President of the Senate would count and announce the vote, but it is the House of Representatives (the PEOPLE’S House) who selects the President in the event of a tie vote, as in the case of the 1800 election.
This Amendment also set forth that the Vice-President is required to have all of the same constitutional qualifications required of the President in case he succeeds to the Presidency. Originally, no one ran for the position of Vice-President – the office went to the first loser. Under the Twelfth Amendment, the Vice-President is elected separately, therefore important that he be just as qualified as the Presidential winner.
Up until the Twelfth Amendment, inauguration day was March 4, allowing time for the old process to determine who would be President and who would be Vice-President and allow for the passing of the baton. This time lapse became unnecessary with the Twelfth Amendment changes to the process – and the timely transfer of power necessarily became more important to expedite quickly, so January 20 became the day for the transfer of power.