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N.D. may cast one vote for president

It may sound speculative today but our only member of Congress may be casting the state's one vote for president in January.

In the event that none of the presidential candidates garner 270 votes in the Electoral College in the 2012 election, the choice will be thrown into the House of Representatives where each state will have one vote. It will take an absolute majority of states (26) to elect the president.

Obviously, to make this happen, a third party candidate must win enough electoral votes to prevent either of the major party candidates from getting 270 electoral votes. The last time a third party candidate won electoral votes was in 1948 when Gov. George Wallace won 46 electoral votes by carrying five states.

Ross Perot ran a strong third party candidacy in 1992 when he won 19 percent of the national vote. Unfortunately for him, his support was scattered throughout the country so he didn't get any electoral votes. Wallace won electoral votes by appealing to racists in a handful of southern states.

If you think that North Dakota voters can't be budged in their partisan commitments, think again. Perot got 23 percent of the North Dakota vote in 1992.

The prospects of a vote in the House are greater this time for a number of reasons. There is major discontent and hurting in the land. The natives are restless. Really restless. Congress and the president are getting terrible marks for performance. And this time it's some folks with big money who are talking about running a third candidate for president.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is on the bandwagon with a well-funded group calling itself Americans Elect. Peter Ackerman, a wealthy private investor and philanthropist, is bankrolling the effort and more big contributors are waiting in the wings. Joining them is a bipartisan group of political strategists and contributors. They have already raised $22 million without trying.

Since a number of experienced political strategists are in involved in Americans Elect, they may be wise enough to take a page out of Wallace's campaign manual and concentrate their effort in several states that will yield them enough electoral votes to keep anyone from winning the presidency outright.

With major supporters in New York, it would be possible for them to capture the Empire State's 29 electoral votes. That could be enough to send the contest to the House.

However, Americans Elect will have a problem in the House. Americans Elect will have no voice in the House unless it elects some members of Congress in 2012. It will be the members of the new Congress who will decide.

(At present, Republicans control 34 of the delegations. It will be difficult for the Democrats to gain enough seats in 2012 to whittle that down to 25 or less.)

What makes this scenario fascinating is that the Founding Fathers thought most of the presidential races would end up in Congress. Today, we would consider that a travesty.

Spokespersons for Americans Elect claim they are not organizing a third party but will be nominating a moderate candidate using the Internet. They may find that the unhappiness is not about the present polarization. Actually, the extremists may be the unhappiest of them all and not want a moderate candidate.

I wonder what James Madison would do.

(Lloyd Omdahl, of Grand Forks, is a former lieutenant governor, state tax commissioner and state budget director)