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In the 1968 Washington Post story announcing Nixon as the winner of the 1968 presidential election, the author made a peculiar point:

   Nixon’s Illinois victory, which emerged more than 15 hours after the voting
ended in Tuesday’s election, prevented third-party candidate George C. Wallace
from using his 15 electoral votes to determine the choice of the 37th President
and, alternatively, kept the contest from going to the House of Representatives 
for the first time since 1824.

The phrase that interests me most is the claim that his Illinois victory "prevented third-party candidate George C. Wallace from using his 15 electoral votes to determine the choice of the 37th President."

Does this imply that a 3rd party candidate could somehow 'give' their electoral votes to one of the top two candidates, thus deciding the election? How would that work?

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American Independent Party nomination of George Wallace

Wallace did not expect to win the election – his strategy was to prevent either major party candidate from winning a preliminary majority in the Electoral College. He had his electors pledge to vote not necessarily for him but rather for whomever he directed them to support – his objective was not to move the election into the U.S. House of Representatives, but rather to give himself the bargaining power to determine the winner.

This strategy would have been put into place between the November election and the December counting of electoral votes.

[Incidentally, it was ultimately 46 electoral votes.]

Does this imply that a 3rd party candidate could somehow 'give' their electoral votes to one of the top two candidates, thus deciding the election?

Yes, in a way.

How would that work?

Explained above.

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    Did any of the five states that Wallace won have faithless elector laws at the time? (It appears that Mississippi and Alabama do now, but I don't know if they did 50 years ago.) If so, would Wallace's strategy have run into trouble there? – Michael Seifert Sep 26 '19 at 12:03
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    @MichaelSeifert - Did any of the five states that Wallace won have faithless elector laws at the time? I don't know. Faithless elector laws have tended to become more strict. There is no penalty under current law and votes are counted as cast. It's unlikely there would have been any effective change. If so, would Wallace's strategy have run into trouble there? There was that possibility with the electors in any states he won. – Rick Smith Sep 26 '19 at 13:34
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    Note that a different Wikipedia page says Wallace's strategy was to throw the election to the House: "Although Wallace did not expect to win the election, his strategy was to prevent either major party candidate from winning a majority in the Electoral College. This would throw the election into the House of Representatives, where Wallace would have bargaining power sufficient to determine, or at least strongly influence, the selection of a winner." Neither page has a citation for its assertion, though. – Michael Seifert Sep 26 '19 at 14:06
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    @MichaelSeifert - In 1968 U.S. House election, the strategy in the quote I provided is given as "An alternative theory". The question asked about the electoral votes. The quote I provided is more relevant to the question than the "throw it to the House theory". – Rick Smith Sep 26 '19 at 14:51

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