What if I told you we can avoid both a Trump AND a Clinton presidency?  And what if I told you that we can do it by voting our consciences?

One of the most often repeated defenses of teaching history in schools is that knowing history helps us avoid making mistakes of the past (though I question whether or not it has that effect in reality).  I find that argument compelling, but history does a great deal more than just that.  History reminds us of the way things once were, providing for us a kind of nostalgic alternative to the course we have presently charted for ourselves.

This isn’t just philosophizing about some high notion of the Golden Age.  No, I’m talking about how we can keep both Trump and Clinton out of the White House–without forcing him off the Republican ticket, or putting her in prison.

All we have to do is prevent either candidate from reaching 270 electoral votes.

Many people were disappointed by the Bush-Gore election of 2000, when Gore lost the election despite winning the national popular vote.  Bush won in 2000 because he won a majority of the electors, as required by the Constitution.

But let me remind you of someone who lost both the national popular vote and the electoral college, and still became President of The United States.

A Brief History Lesson

In 1824, the candidates running were Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, William Crawford, and Henry Clay.  Andrew Jackson won the national popular vote, and he won the most electors.  And yet, he lost the presidency.

Jackson lost because, in order to win a general election, a candidate must receive a majority of the electors.  Jackson received a plurality (99 votes), but not the majority he needed (131 votes).  Thus, in accordance with Article II of the Constitution, the election went to the U.S. House of Representatives.  As a result, John Quincy Adams was elected by winning a majority of states.

That election wasn’t rigged or broken. The founders expected all elections to end up like this in the House.

Implications

The polls show it, and we all know it to be true: Trump and Clinton are the most unlikable candidates ever to run for the office.  Everyone feels trapped by our future prospects.

However, the same thing that happened in 1824 could happen in 2016, if voters would vote their consciences.  

If the total number of people who dislike both Trump and Clinton, on both sides of the ideological aisle, would vote for their preferred third-party candidate, neither Trump nor Clinton could reach 270 electoral votes.  The election would go to the House.  Then, the House would choose from the top three in electoral votes.

Gary Johnson, Evan McMullin, or Jill Stein may not be exciting–but for goodness’ sake, doesn’t that give you some hope?

Such an event is more than a theoretical possibility. It has a historical precedent, albeit under slightly different circumstances. But it can only happen if good, partisan citizens stop the self-fulfilling prophecy that says “If you don’t support [our guy], then you’re voting for the other candidate!”  Stop telling yourself that it’s between the lesser of two evils, or that “it’s about the courts,” or whatever other nonsense excuse you may fabricate to justify your vote.

Ted Cruz, despite all the flak he received at the time, had it absolutely right at the convention: vote your conscience.