The possibility that a third-party conservative, Evan McMullin, could win Utah in the presidential election has sparked much loose talk and hyperventilation about what it would portend. Some say it would “cost” Donald Trump the White House. One carelessly worded Internet explainer says it “could effectively get Hillary Clinton elected.”

Is any of this true? Fortunately, we can refer to the Constitution for the answer. The answer is, no, Utahns will not be responsible for making Clinton president if they give McMullin their six electoral votes.

Here’s a refresher on how the president is chosen. After the 538 electors are chosen in the Nov. 8 election, they will meet in their respective states to cast their electoral college votes as prescribed in the Twelfth Amendment.

The only way to win the presidency in the Electoral College is by winning an outright majority (270 or more) of the 538 votes. A plurality will not do. This means that even a strong third-party candidate who wins several states cannot help any other candidate squeak by. If McMullin wins Utah, it will not make Clinton president.

A McMullin win in Utah would have no effect at all unless it prevents both Clinton and Trump from reaching 270 electoral votes. This is highly unlikely. But even if it does happen, it would only throw the presidential election to the House of Representatives, which hasn’t happened in nearly two centuries.

What happens in the House is plain weird. Each state’s House delegation is given just one vote. And the House is allowed to choose only between the three top electoral vote winners.

Republicans have majorities in 33 House delegations, and Democrats in only 14, with the remaining three (New Jersey, Maine and New Hampshire) divided evenly. Although the Constitution does not say so explicitly, it is presumed that states whose delegations are evenly split in their choice would abstain. Abstentions don’t change the fact that the winner must receive votes from a majority of all the states — that is, no fewer than 26 votes.

We cannot know in advance how many delegations the two parties will control in January. But barring an unexpected rout on Election Day, Republicans will probably control more than 26, and Democrats no more than 18.

If no presidential candidate gets a majority on the first vote, balloting continues. If no one has a majority by Inauguration Day, then the presidency goes to the next person available in the line of succession — vice president (if a new one has been chosen), Speaker of the House, et cetera.

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A presidential election decided in the House would not guarantee a Trump victory, but it would be the likely outcome. McMullin’s theoretical path to victory has always been that Republican House delegations will choose him instead. Either way, given the House’s likely makeup after this election, a Clinton victory there seems well nigh impossible.

Then again, this entire scenario is the stuff of fantasy. It will probably remain so even if McMullin does win Utah. The only point of this explanation is that a third-party win in Utah or any other state cannot and will not hand the presidency to Clinton.

A victory in Utah won’t make McMullin president. If it accomplishes anything, it will be to encourage both parties to reflect about the processes that gave us the two most unpopular presidential nominees in modern history.

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