Today's Article
House members 'may
vote for any individual'
to serve as speaker,
and 'are not required
to vote for one of the
candidates,' declares
a major study.
The American Spark
How Does A Person Become House Speaker?

By Cliff Montgomery - Nov. 30th, 2018

There’s been a lot of talk about who will be elected Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in January,
when the Democrats take control of the institution. But few journalists have explained just how the actual
procedure will occur.

It’s an important matter; if there are any surprises, there’s a fair chance it will happen during the election

Below, The
American Spark quotes from a study on this subject that was just released by the Congressional
Research Service. It uses a simple “question-and-answer” method to explain the
election procedure:

This report briefly poses and answers several frequently asked questions in relation to the floor proceedings
used to elect a Speaker of the House.” [...]

When Does an Election for Speaker Occur?

“Upon convening at the start of a new Congress, the House elects a Speaker by roll call vote. If a Speaker
dies, resigns or is removed during a Congress, the House elects a new Speaker at that time.

“In the most recent cases of an election held during the middle of a Congress, the practice has been to elect
a new Speaker using the same process as at the start of a Congress.

Who Presides over the Proceedings to Elect a New Speaker?

“When a Speaker is selected at the start of a new Congress, the Clerk of the House presides; the Clerk may
also preside over an election to replace a Speaker who had died during a Congress.

“A sitting Speaker could preside over the election of his or her successor. However, under clause 8(b)(3) of
House Rule I (adopted in the 108th Congress), the Speaker must provide the Clerk a list of Members
designated to act as Speaker
pro tempore in the case of a vacancy in the office.

“It is possible that a Member on this list could preside over an election in the case of a vacancy during a

How Are the Party Nominees Selected?

“In current practice, each House party caucus selects, prior to the floor vote, a candidate whose name is
placed in nomination immediately before the vote.

Are Nominations Formally Made on the Floor?

“Typically, the election commences with a Member from each party caucus placing in nomination the party’s
candidate for Speaker.

“Other names may also be placed in nomination on the floor.

In What Form Do Members Vote?

“Since 1839, the election has been by roll-call vote, a quorum being present. Votes are cast viva voce,
meaning that each voting Member states aloud the surname of the candidate whom he or she favors for
Speaker. The presiding officer appoints several Members as tellers, who tally the votes.

For Whom May a Member Vote?

“Members are not required to vote for one of the candidates nominated by each major party (or even for some
other candidate formally nominated on the floor); they may vote for any individual.

“Although the U.S. Constitution does not require the Speaker to be a Member of the House, all Speakers
have been Members. However, some individuals not serving in the House have received votes.

How Many Votes Must a Candidate Receive to Be Elected Speaker?

“The long-standing practice of the House is that electing a Speaker requires a numerical majority of the votes
cast by Members ‘for a person by name.’

“This does not mean that an individual must necessarily receive a majority (currently 218) of the full
membership of the House, because some Members may not be present to vote (or may instead answer

What Happens If No Member Receives Sufficient Votes?

“If no candidate receives the requisite majority of votes cast, the roll call is repeated. No restrictions are
imposed on who may receive votes in the subsequent ballots. (For instance, no candidate is eliminated based
on receiving the fewest votes in the floor election, and a Member’s vote is not limited to individuals who
received votes in previous ballots.)”

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