When the founders gathered in Philadelphia to draft the Constitution, they debated for months to decide how a president should be elected. At first, they liked the idea of Congress picking the president — as the British Parliament chooses the prime minister — but discarded that proposal over concerns it would lead to corruption between the executive and legislative branches.

Eventually, they settled on a little-known compromise called the “contingent election,” which has been mostly ignored by our history books. If no candidate emerges from the Electoral College with an electoral majority, the outcome is decided by the House of Representatives, where each state delegation gets one vote. Thomas Jefferson believed this was “the most dangerous blot in our Constitution, and one which some unlucky chance will some day hit.”

Fortunately, we haven’t come close to a contingent election since 1824, when John Quincy Adams won the presidency over populist Andrew Jackson. But as distant as it may seem, a contingent election is a real possibility this fall, at a time when confidence in American democracy is already fraying. As Ethan Bauer details this could be a dangerous mix. “With just 16 percent saying they trusted the government in 2023, a contingent election could be the poison pill embedded in the U.S. Constitution that causes the rest of the electoral system to fail.”

With so much at stake this election season, we’re making a special effort at the magazine to focus on what truly makes America great. In that vein, this month’s cover story highlights the Great Salt Lake in a gorgeous photo essay by Chris Carlson. When I met with him to see his photos for the first time, I was inspired by the spiritual connection he feels with this endangered natural wonder. He told me how his ancestors were among the first white settlers to build homes on Antelope Island. Now, he hopes his work, will spur others to take action while the vanishing lake can still be saved. “Walk the shores,” Carlson implores. “Listen to the stories. See the beauty. Witness the plight.”

We love this land and believe in the institutions dedicated to preserving our democracy, but every good fight starts with good people. As I’ve noted in this space before, one important way to help is by listening respectfully to those who hold opposing views. But as Joshua DuBois points out in this month’s Commentary that doesn’t mean compromising our deeply held beliefs. In fact, sometimes it requires the courage to call out what we see as wrong. “We need an active, lived civility that is not quiet,” DuBois writes, “that doesn’t take a backseat, but leans into the healing of this country.” I like to think our forebears — from Mason to Jefferson and Carlson’s pioneer ancestors — would agree.

This story appears in the May 2024 issue of Deseret Magazine. Learn more about how to subscribe.