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Law and Politics

How to Pick a Vice President

Balance the ticket or picking a partner?

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  • The executive branch is led by the president. [The White House]
  • The primary responsibility of the vice president (VP) is "to be ready at a moment’s notice to assume the Presidency" if the president is unable to perform his or her duties. [The White House]
  • The U.S. Constitution contains four key duties of the vice presidency: (1) to succeed the president upon death or resignation, (2) preside over the Senate, (3) oversee impeachment trials, (4) supervise the counting of the Electoral College. [National Geographic]
  • The VP cannot vote in the Senate unless to break a tie. [United States Senate]

The U.S. Constitution: Article I, Section III

"The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided."


Article II, Section I

"The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same Term, be elected..."


Article II, Section IV

"The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors."

[National Constitution Center]



CIVICS: The Constitution outlines the primary responsibility of the vice president (VP) is to be ready to assume the roles and responsibilities of the presidency. [National GeographicThe 25th Amendment ratified in 1967 specifically outlines the succession of the presidency, from the VP to the Speaker of the House and onward.


SOCIAL: Until the 12th Amendment ratified in 1804, the VP was the person who received the second greatest number of electoral votes. [The White House Until the amendment, VPs were often a political adversary to the president and would actively work to undermine the policies and agenda of the president. [National Geographic]


The model shifted at the start of the nineteenth century to picking a VP that would "balance" the ticket and become a publicized moment in the media. [National Geographic] From 1992 to today, most candidates choose a VP that will be a partner in helping them balance the roles and responsibilities of the executive branch. [Brookings]


So which model for choosing a vice president better for governing and for the nation?



One thought is to choose a vice president that provides votes from a different geographic area of the country. [National Geographic] For example,

  • President John F. Kennedy (Northerner) chose VP Lyndon B. Johnson (Southerner)


Another thought is to choose a vice president that has a different ideology than the president to unify the party. [Brookings]

  • Presidential candidate, former Senator John McCain (Moderate Conservative) chose former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin (Tea Party)

Can I have it all?

In some cases, vice presidents can provide both a geographic and ideological difference to unite the party and hopefully the country. [National Geographic]

  • President Jimmy Carter (Southern conservative) picked VP Walter Mondale (Northern liberal)


1992 and President Clinton

Historians see Clinton's VP pick as the shift in ideology to a partnership model between the VP and president. [Brookings]


VP Al Gore, with President Clinton, redefined the role and prominence of the vice presidency on the national and global stage. [Brookings]




President Bush, President Obama, and President Trump have all picked a vice president that they have heavily involved in the duties and responsibilities of the presidency. [Brookings]


Each of the former VPs, Cheney, Biden, and Pence, was in the public eye and took the lead on critical matters like foreign policy.


Presidential candidate Joe Biden has stated that he is vetting VP candidates using this model and theory of thought, trying to find "someone who is simpatico..." [The New York Times


  • The 2020 Presidential Election is on November 3, 2020. 
  • The 2020 Republican Vice President (VP) candidate is the current VP, Mike Pence.
  • Aug 11, 2020: Joe Biden selected CA Senator, Kamala Harris, as his VP running mate. [The Los Angeles Times]
  • Harris joins two females, Democrat Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Republican Sarah Palin in 2008, that has ever been nominated to the office by a major political party. [National Geographic]
  • Harris also made history by being the first Black/Indian female. [The San Fransisco Chronicle
  • If elected, Harris would be the first female vice president. [The New York Times]


  • Female activists are prepared to defend sexist attacks against Biden's VP pick. [The Washington Post]
  • All VPs have been white males. Is it important to diversify the executive branch? How can we diversify the vice presidency and presidency?
  • Do VP picks increase voter turnout? There is little evidence that the VP pick impacts the success of the ticket. [TIME]
  • There have been 48 VPs. 14 VPs have become president. [TIME]
  • How does the electoral college work? Should we change the way we elect U.S. presidents and vice presidents?
Key Vocabulary