The Election FAQs Just Keep Coming

Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., and Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said in Florida this week that when a we’re-not-kidding-this-is-the-final-count count is done in Florida, and if the country then finds out Al Gore actually won, it would be tragic if it turned out George W. Bush had already been sworn in as president. Who is going to do this final-final-final count?

Gephardt and Daschle were speaking hypothetically. They don’t have any plans to go and count but are assuming the press or citizens’ groups will eventually examine all the Florida ballots and make a determination. Using Florida’s laws regarding open government, the right-wing group Judicial Watch got access to the ballots in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties and fielded hundreds of people to make their own count. (Explainer suddenly feels psychic! She predicts Judicial Watch will discover that George W. Bush won by a landslide.) The organization didn’t finish its count, however, because it had to give the ballots back so they could be driven to Tallahassee for further state review.

Has a dead person ever been elected to the Senate before? And will the new Senate that arrives for swearing in on Jan. 3 be split 50-50, or will it start out as a 50-49 Senate given that Missouri’s newly elected Democrat, Mel Carnahan, is deceased?

No dead person has ever been elected to the Senate, although three have been elected to the House. In the House a vacant seat is filled after a special election is held. In the case of a vacate Senate seat, the state’s governor appoints a new senator to serve until the next general election. Since Missouri Gov. Roger Wilson has already announced that he will fill Mel Carnahan’s seat with his widow, Jean, the paperwork to make that transition will be ready. When it’s certified that Mel Carnahan’s seat is vacant on Jan. 3, his widow is expected to be sworn in the same day. An election for the seat will be held in 2002.

Given that the Senate will be split 50-50, if Dick Cheney is vice president, he will probably have to cast a lot of tiebreaking votes. (If Joe Lieberman becomes vice president it won’t be such a problem–he would have to vacate his Senate seat, and Connecticut’s Republican governor would appoint a Republican to fill it, giving the GOP a 51-49 majority.) Which vice president cast the most tiebreakers?

John Adams cast 29. It was a little different in his day. There were no party affiliations, just disagreements. John C. Calhoun, who was vice president for John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, cast 28. In modern times vice presidents have been free to spend more time at state funerals than in the Senate. Richard Nixon cast eight; George Bush, seven; and Al Gore, four. Dan Quayle was never called away from any spelling bees to cast a single deciding vote. Senators so dislike having a vice president from an opposing party cast the tiebreaking vote that they sometimes change their votes to keep the veep from getting credit for passing a bill. A tiebreaking vote is only needed when the vice president’s party wants a bill to pass. If a vote is 50-50 and the vice president does not cast a tiebreaker, the bill is automatically defeated.  

Next questions?

Explainer thanks Donald Ritchie of the Senate Historical Office, Sue Harvey of Rep. Gephardt’s office, and Tony Wyche, spokesman for Jean Carnahan.