Speakers of the House: Elections, 1913-2017

Each new House elects a Speaker by roll call vote when it first convenes. Customarily, the conference of each major party nominates a candidate whose name is placed in nomination. A Member normally votes for the candidate of his or her own party conference but may vote for any individual, whether nominated or not. To be elected, a candidate must receive an absolute majority of all the votes cast for individuals. This number may be less than a majority (now 218) of the full membership of the House because of vacancies, absentees, or Members answering “present.”

This report provides data on elections of the Speaker in each Congress since 1913, when the House first reached its present size of 435 Members. During that period (63rd through 115th Congresses), a Speaker was elected five times with the votes of less than a majority of the full membership.

If a Speaker dies or resigns during a Congress, the House immediately elects a new one. Five such elections occurred since 1913. In the earlier two cases, the House elected the new Speaker by resolution; in the more recent three, the body used the same procedure as at the outset of a Congress.

If no candidate receives the requisite majority, the roll call is repeated until a Speaker is elected. Since 1913, this procedure has been necessary only in 1923, when nine ballots were required before a Speaker was elected.

From 1913 through 1943, more often than not, some Members voted for candidates other than those of the two major parties. The candidates in question were usually those representing the “progressive” group (reformers originally associated with the Republican Party), and in some Congresses, their names were formally placed in nomination on behalf of that group. From 1945 through 1995, only the nominated Republican and Democratic candidates received votes, reflecting the establishment of an exclusively two-party system at the national level.

In nine of the 12 elections since 1997, however, some Members have voted for candidates other than the official nominees of their parties. Only in the initial election in 2015, however, were any such candidates formally placed in nomination. Usually, the additional candidates receiving votes have been other Members of the voter’s own party, but in one instance, in 2001, a Member voted for the official nominee of the other party. In 1997 and 2013 and in both 2015 elections, votes were cast for candidates who were not then Members of the House, including, in the initial 2015 election, sitting Senators. Although the Constitution does not so require, the Speaker has always been a Member of the House.

The report will be updated as additional elections for Speaker occur.

Speakers of the House: Elections, 1913-2017

Updated November 26, 2018 (RL30857)
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Summary

Each new House elects a Speaker by roll call vote when it first convenes. Customarily, the conference of each major party nominates a candidate whose name is placed in nomination. A Member normally votes for the candidate of his or her own party conference but may vote for any individual, whether nominated or not. To be elected, a candidate must receive an absolute majority of all the votes cast for individuals. This number may be less than a majority (now 218) of the full membership of the House because of vacancies, absentees, or Members answering "present."

This report provides data on elections of the Speaker in each Congress since 1913, when the House first reached its present size of 435 Members. During that period (63rd through 115th Congresses), a Speaker was elected five times with the votes of less than a majority of the full membership.

If a Speaker dies or resigns during a Congress, the House immediately elects a new one. Five such elections occurred since 1913. In the earlier two cases, the House elected the new Speaker by resolution; in the more recent three, the body used the same procedure as at the outset of a Congress.

If no candidate receives the requisite majority, the roll call is repeated until a Speaker is elected. Since 1913, this procedure has been necessary only in 1923, when nine ballots were required before a Speaker was elected.

From 1913 through 1943, more often than not, some Members voted for candidates other than those of the two major parties. The candidates in question were usually those representing the "progressive" group (reformers originally associated with the Republican Party), and in some Congresses, their names were formally placed in nomination on behalf of that group. From 1945 through 1995, only the nominated Republican and Democratic candidates received votes, reflecting the establishment of an exclusively two-party system at the national level.

In nine of the 12 elections since 1997, however, some Members have voted for candidates other than the official nominees of their parties. Only in the initial election in 2015, however, were any such candidates formally placed in nomination. Usually, the additional candidates receiving votes have been other Members of the voter's own party, but in one instance, in 2001, a Member voted for the official nominee of the other party. In 1997 and 2013 and in both 2015 elections, votes were cast for candidates who were not then Members of the House, including, in the initial 2015 election, sitting Senators. Although the Constitution does not so require, the Speaker has always been a Member of the House.

The report will be updated as additional elections for Speaker occur.


Regular and Special Elections of the Speaker

The traditional practice of the House is to elect a Speaker by roll call vote upon first convening after a general election of Representatives.1 Customarily, the conference of each major party in the House selects a candidate whose name is formally placed in nomination before the roll call. A Member may vote for one of these nominated candidates or for another individual.2 In the great majority of cases, Members vote for the candidate nominated by their own party conferences, since the outcome of this vote in effect establishes which party has the majority and therefore will organize the House.

Table 1 presents data on the votes cast for candidates for Speaker of the House of Representatives in each Congress from 1913 (63rd Congress) through 2017 (115th Congress). It shows the votes cast for the nominees of the two major parties, other candidates nominated from the floor, and individuals not formally nominated.

Included in the table are not only the elections held regularly at the outset of each Congress but also those held during the course of a Congress as a result of the death or resignation of a sitting Speaker. Such elections have occurred five times during the period examined

  • in 1936 (74th Congress) upon the death of Speaker Joseph Byrns;
  • in 1940 (76th Congress) upon the death of Speaker William Bankhead;
  • in 1962 (87th Congress) upon the death of Speaker Sam Rayburn;
  • in 1989 (101st Congress) upon the resignation of Speaker Jim Wright; and
  • in 2015 (114th Congress) upon the resignation of Speaker John Boehner.

On the two earlier occasions among these five, the election was by resolution rather than by roll call vote. On the more recent three, the same procedure was followed as at the start of a Congress.

Size of the House and Majority Required to Elect

The data presented here cover the period during which the permanent size of the House has been set at 435 Members. This period corresponds to that since the admission of Arizona and New Mexico as the 47th and 48th states in 1912. The actual size of the House was 436, and then 437, for a brief period between the admission of Alaska and Hawaii (in 1958 and 1959) and the reapportionment of Representatives following the 1960 census.

By practice of the House going back to its earliest days, an absolute majority of the Members present and voting is required in order to elect a Speaker. A majority of the full membership of the House (218, in a House of 435) is not required. Precedents emphasize that the requirement is for a majority of "the total number of votes cast for a person by name."3 A candidate for Speaker may receive a majority of the votes cast, and be elected, while failing to obtain a majority of the full membership because some Members either are not present to vote or instead answer "present" rather than voting for a candidate. During the period examined, this kind of result has occurred five times

  • in 1917 (65th Congress), "Champ" Clark was elected with 217 votes;
  • in 1923 (68th Congress), Frederick Gillett was elected with 215 votes;
  • in 1943 (78th Congress), Sam Rayburn was elected with 217 votes;
  • in 1997 (105th Congress), Newt Gingrich was elected with 216 votes; and
  • in 2015 (114th Congress), John Boehner was elected with 216 votes.

In addition, in 1931 (72nd Congress), the candidate of the new Democratic majority, John Nance Garner (later Vice President), received 218 votes, a bare majority of the membership. The table does not take into account the number of vacancies existing in the House at the time of the election; it therefore cannot show whether any Speaker may have been elected lacking a majority of the then qualified membership of the House.4

If no candidate obtains the requisite majority, the roll call is repeated. On these subsequent ballots, Members may still vote for any individual; no restrictions have ever been imposed, such as that the lowest candidate on each ballot must drop out, or that no new candidate may enter. Because of the predominance of the two established national parties during the period examined, only once in the period did the House fail to elect on the first roll call.5 In 1923 (68th Congress), in a closely divided House, both major party nominees initially failed to gain a majority because of votes cast for other candidates by Members from the Progressive Party or from the "progressive" wing of the Republican Party. Many of these Members agreed to vote for the Republican candidate only on the ninth ballot, after the Republican leadership had agreed to accept a number of procedural reforms these Members favored. Thus the Republican was ultimately elected, although (as noted earlier) still with less than a majority of the full membership.6

Third and Additional Candidates

In the first portion of the period covered by Table 1, it was common for candidates other than those of the two major parties to receive votes. Such action occurred in 11 of the 16 Congresses (63rd-78th) that convened from 1913 through 1943. On seven of those 11 occasions, candidates other than those of the two major parties were formally nominated. These events reflect chiefly the influence in Congress, during those three decades, of the progressive movement. The additional nominations were offered in the name of that movement, and the votes cast for Members other than the major party nominees also generally represent an expression of progressive sentiments.

During this period, the occurrence of additional nominations (displayed in the table) reflects changing views of Members identifying themselves as "progressives" about whether to constitute themselves in the House as a separate Progressive Party caucus or as a wing of the Republican Party. So does the pattern of shifts in the party labels by which these nominees and others receiving votes chose to designate themselves. The last formal Progressive Party nominee appeared in 1937 (75th Congress). After defeats in the following election, the only two remaining Members representing the Progressive Party were reduced to voting for each other for Speaker, and beginning in 1947 (80th Congress), the last standard bearer of the tendency accepted the Republican label. The demise of this movement in the House represented the final stage in the establishment of a two-party system at the national level.

From 1945 through 1995 (79th-104th Congresses), only the official nominees of the two major parties received votes for Speaker. This pattern, in other words, persisted from the end of World War II and the advent of the "modern Congress"7 until after the Republicans had regained the majority in the 104th Congress (1995-1996) after four decades as the minority party. During this period, the presumption became firmly established that a Member's vote for Speaker will reliably reflect his or her party membership.

The opening of the 105th Congress in 1997, accordingly, marked the first time since 1943 that anyone other than the two major party candidates received votes for Speaker. In nine of the 12 speakership elections since then (1997-2017), at least one Member has voted for a candidate other than ones formally nominated by the major party conferences. Early in this period, votes cast for other candidates seem to have usually reflected specific circumstances and events, but in the most recent instances, some of them may be regarded as reflecting action by identifiable political factions or groupings. During this period, only in the initial election of 2015 have the names of any candidates other than those of the party conferences been formally placed in nomination.

The 1997 and 2013 ballots and both 2015 ballots were also notable because votes were cast for candidates who were not Members of the House at the time, and in the initial election in 2015, two of these were sitting Members of the Senate. Although the Constitution does not require the Speaker (or any other officer of either chamber) to be a Member, the Speaker has always been so; it is not known that any votes for individuals other than Members to be Speaker had ever previously been cast in the history of the House.

Notably, in 2001, a Member who bore the designation of one major party voted for the nominee of the other. Although the table below does not indicate the party affiliation of the Members voting for each candidate, examination of other available records confirms that no such action had occurred at least for the previous half century.8

Table 1. Individuals Receiving Votes for Speaker, 1913-2017

Year

Republican Nominee

Votes

Democratic Nominee

Votes

Others Receiving Votes

Votes

1913

James R. Mann (IL)

111

James B. ("Champ") Clark (MO)

272

Victor Murdock (P-KS)
Henry A. Cooper (R-WI)
John M. Nelson (R-WI)

18
4
1

1915

James R. Mann (IL)

195

James B. ("Champ") Clark (MO)

222

 

 

1917

James R. Mann (IL)

205

James B. ("Champ") Clark (MO)

217

Irvine L. Lenroot (R-WI)
Frederick H. Gillett (R-MA)

2
2

1919

Frederick H. Gillett (MA)

228

James B. ("Champ") Clark (MO)

172

 

 

1921

Frederick H. Gillett (MA)

297

Claude Kitchin (NC)

122

 

 

1923 (first ballot)

Frederick H. Gillett (MA)

197

Finis J. Garrett (TN)

195

Henry A. Cooper (R-WI)
Martin B. Madden (R-IL)

17
5

(ninth ballot)

Frederick H. Gillett (MA)

215

Finis J. Garrett (TN)

197

Martin B. Madden (R-IL)

2

1925

Nicholas Longworth (OH)

229

Finis J. Garrett (TN)

173

Henry A. Cooper (R-WI)

13

1927

Nicholas Longworth (OH)

225

Finis J. Garrett (TN)

187

 

 

1929

Nicholas Longworth (OH)

254

John N. Garner (TX)

143

 

 

1931

Bertrand H. Snell (NY)

207

John N. Garner (TX)

218

George J. Schneider (R-WI)

5

1933

Bertrand H. Snell (NY)

110

Henry T. Rainey (IL)

302

Paul J. Kvale (F-L-MN)

5

1935

Bertrand H. Snell (NY)

95

Joseph W. Byrns (TN)

317

George J. Schneider (P-WI)
W.P. Lambertson (R-KS)

9
2

1936 (June 4)a

 

 

William B. Bankhead (AL) (H.Res. 543)b

voice vote

 

 

1937

Bertrand H. Snell (NY)

83

William B. Bankhead (AL)

324

George J. Schneider (P-WI)
Fred L. Crawford (R-MI)

10
2

1939

Joseph W. Martin (MA)

168

William B. Bankhead (AL)

249

Merlin Hull (P-WI)
Bernard J. Gehrmann (P-WI)

1
1

1940 (Sept. 16)a

 

 

Sam Rayburn (TX) (H.Res. 602)b

voice vote

 

 

1941

Joseph W. Martin (MA)

159

Sam Rayburn (TX)

247

Merlin Hull (P-WI)
Bernard J. Gehrmann (P-WI)

2
1

1943

Joseph W. Martin (MA)

206

Sam Rayburn (TX)

217

Merlin Hull (P-WI)
Harry Sauthoff (P-WI)

1
1

1945

Joseph W. Martin (MA)

168

Sam Rayburn (TX)

224

 

 

1947

Joseph W. Martin (MA)

244

Sam Rayburn (TX)

182

 

 

1949

Joseph W. Martin (MA)

160

Sam Rayburn (TX)

255

 

 

1951

Joseph W. Martin (MA)

193

Sam Rayburn (TX)

231

 

 

1953

Joseph W. Martin (MA)

220

Sam Rayburn (TX)

201

 

 

1955

Joseph W. Martin (MA)

198

Sam Rayburn (TX)

228

 

 

1957

Joseph W. Martin (MA)

199

Sam Rayburn (TX)

227

 

 

1959

Charles A. Halleck (IN)

148

Sam Rayburn (TX)

281

 

 

1961

Charles A. Halleck (IN)

170

Sam Rayburn (TX)

258

 

 

1962 (Jan. 10)a

Charles A. Halleck (IN)

166

John W. McCormack (MA)

248

 

 

1963

Charles A. Halleck (IN)

175

John W. McCormack (MA)

256

 

 

1965

Gerald R. Ford (MI)

139

John W. McCormack (MA)

289

 

 

1967

Gerald R. Ford (MI)

186

John W. McCormack (MA)

246

 

 

1969

Gerald R. Ford (MI)

187

John W. McCormack (MA)

241

 

 

1971

Gerald R. Ford (MI)

176

Carl B. Albert (OK)

250

 

 

1973

Gerald R. Ford (MI)

188

Carl B. Albert (OK)

236

 

 

1975

John J. Rhodes (AZ)

143

Carl B. Albert (OK)

287

 

 

1977

John J. Rhodes (AZ)

142

Thomas P. ("Tip") O'Neill (MA)

290

 

 

1979

John J. Rhodes (AZ)

152

Thomas P. ("Tip") O'Neill (MA)

268

 

 

1981

Robert H. Michel (IL)

183

Thomas P. ("Tip") O'Neill (MA)

233

 

 

1983

Robert H. Michel (IL)

155

Thomas P. ("Tip") O'Neill (MA)

260

 

 

1985

Robert H. Michel (IL)

175

Thomas P. ("Tip") O'Neill (MA)

247

 

 

1987

Robert H. Michel (IL)

173

Jim Wright (TX)

254

 

 

1989

Robert H. Michel (IL)

170

Jim Wright (TX)

253

 

 

1989 (June 6)a

Robert H. Michel (IL)

164

Thomas S. Foley (WA)

251

 

 

1991

Robert H. Michel (IL)

165

Thomas S. Foley (WA)

262

 

 

1993

Robert H. Michel (IL)

174

Thomas S. Foley (WA)

255

 

 

1995

Newt Gingrich (GA)

228

Richard A. Gephardt (MO)

202

 

 

1997

Newt Gingrich (GA)

216

Richard A. Gephardt (MO)

205

James Leach (R-IA)
Robert H. Michelc
Robert Walkerc

2
1
1

1999

J. Dennis Hastert (IL)

220

Richard A. Gephardt (MO)

205

 

 

2001

J. Dennis Hastert (IL)

222

Richard A. Gephardt (MO)

206

John P. Murtha (D-PA)

1

2003

J. Dennis Hastert (IL)

228

Nancy Pelosi (CA)

201

John P. Murtha (D-PA)

1

2005

J. Dennis Hastert (IL)

226

Nancy Pelosi (CA)

199

John P. Murtha (D-PA)

1

2007

John A. Boehner (OH)

202

Nancy Pelosi (CA)

233

 

 

2009

John A. Boehner (OH)

174

Nancy Pelosi (CA)

255

 

 

2011

John A. Boehner (OH)

241

Nancy Pelosi (CA)

173

Heath Shuler (D-NC)
John Lewis (D-GA)
Jim Costa (D-CA)
Dennis Cardoza (D-CA)
Jim Cooper (D-TN)
Marcy Kaptur (D-OH)
Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD)

11
2
1
1
1
1
1

2013

John A. Boehner (OH)

220

Nancy Pelosi (CA)

192

Eric Cantor (R-VA)
Allen Westc
Jim Cooper (D-TN)
John Lewis (D-GA)
Jim Jordan (R-OH)
Colin Powellc
Raúl R. Labrador (R-ID)
Justin Amash (R-MI)
John Dingell (D-MI)
David Walkerc

3
2
2
1
1
1
1
1
1
1

2015

John A. Boehner (OH)

216

Nancy Pelosi (CA)

164

Daniel Webster (R-FL)
Louie Gohmert (R-TX)
Ted S. Yoho (R-FL)
Jim Jordan (R-OH)
Jeff Duncan (R-SC)
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)c
Colin Powellc
Trey Gowdy (R-SC)
Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)
Jim Cooper (D-TN)
Peter A. DeFazio (D-OR)
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL)c
John Lewis (D-GA)

12
3
2
2
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1

2015 (Oct. 29)a

Paul D. Ryan (WI)

236

Nancy Pelosi (CA)

184

Daniel Webster (R-FL)
Colin Powellc
Jim Cooper (D-TN)
John Lewis (D-GA)

9
1
1
1

2017

Paul D. Ryan (WI)

239

Nancy Pelosi (CA)

189

Tim Ryan (D-OH)
Daniel Webster (R-FL)
Jim Cooper (D-TN)
John Lewis (D-GA)

2
1
1
1

Source: Journals of the House of Representatives (for 2003-2011, Congressional Record, daily edition, and for 2013-2017, Clerk of the House website). Party designations are taken from the Congressional Directory for the respective years since these reflect a Member's official party self-designation; historical sources may differ as to the effective party affiliation of certain individuals.

Key:

Elected candidate in bold.

"Other" candidate's name formally placed in nomination in italic.

Party designations of "other" candidates: R = Republican, P = Progressive, F-L = Farmer-Labor.

Notes:

a. Special election to fill a vacancy in the speakership caused by death or resignation.

b. Elected by resolution, not by roll call from nominations.

c. Not a Member of the House at the time.

Author Contact Information

[author name scrubbed], Specialist on Congress and the Legislative Process ([email address scrubbed], [phone number scrubbed])

Acknowledgments

This report was initially written by [author name scrubbed], former CRS Specialist on Congress and the Legislative Process. Updates in recent years were co-authored with the current author, who is available to answer inquiries from congressional clients on the topic.

Footnotes

1.

Until the 1830s, the Speaker was elected by secret ballot. See Asher C. Hinds, Hinds' Precedents of the House of Representative of the United States, vol. I (Washington, DC: GPO, 1906), §§187, 204-211. Also see Jeffrey A. Jenkins and Charles Stewart III, Fighting for the Speakership: The House and the Rise of Party Government (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013).

2.

Candidates may vote for themselves, although they have often declined to vote or voted "present." For an example in which both party nominees voted for themselves, see Congressional Record, vol. 153, January 4, 2007, p. 3.

3.

The Clerk, remarks from the chair (and parliamentary inquiry immediately following), Congressional Record, vol. 143, January 7, 1997, p. 117. See also Charles W. Johnson, John V. Sullivan, and Thomas J. Wickham, Jr., House Practice: A Guide to the Rules, Precedents, and Procedures of the House (Washington, DC: GPO, 2017), ch. 34, §3, which states that "the Speaker is elected by a majority of Members-elect voting by surname, a quorum being present." See also U.S. Congress, House, Constitution, Jefferson's Manual, and Rules of the House of Representatives, One Hundred Fifteenth Congress, (compiled by) Thomas J. Wickham, Parliamentarian, 114th Cong., 2nd sess., H.Doc. 114-192 (Washington, DC: GPO, 2017), §27.

4.

The existence of vacancies at the point when a new House first convened was more common before the 20th Amendment took effect in 1936. Until that time, a Congress elected in one November did not begin its term until March of the following year, and did not convene until December of that year, unless the previous Congress provided otherwise by law.

5.

This occurrence, however, was more common before the period covered in this report, when the two-party system had not become as thoroughly established nor the discipline accompanying it as pronounced.

6.

Full results were as follows:

 

Ballot and Date

Gillett (R)

Garrett (D)

Cooper

Madden

Present

 

1 December 3, 1923

197

195

17

5

4

 

2 December 3

194

194

17

6

3

 

3 December 3

195

196

17

5

3

 

4 December 3

197

196

17

5

3

 

5 December 4

197

197

17

5

3

 

6 December 4

195

197

17

5

3

 

7 December 4

196

198

17

5

3

 

8 December 4

197

198

17

5

3

 

9 December 5

215

197

0

2

4

7.

The "modern Congress" is usually reckoned from the implementation in the 80th Congress (1947-1948) of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 (P.L. 79-601, 60 Stat. 812).

8.

Subsequently, in organizing for that Congress (the 107th), the party caucus against whose nominee the Member voted declined to provide him with committee assignments.