Speaker Elections Decided by Multiple Ballots

The House has elected a Speaker 128 times since 1789. The Speaker is elected at the beginning of the new Congress by a majority of the Representatives-elect from a selection of candidates nominated on the floor prior to the vote. Usually, those candidates are chosen separately by the majority- and minority-party caucuses in a closed-door vote before the start of a new Congress. Members-elect have three options during the election for Speaker: they may vote for a particular candidate; they may vote “present,” which registers their attendance but lowers the threshold needed to win; or they may abstain from the vote. From 1789 to 1839, lawmakers elected the Speaker using secret ballots. But since the opening of the 26th Congress (1839–1841), amid heightened sectional tensions over slavery, the House has elected the Speaker viva voce, by voice vote. In cases of an unexpected vacancy during a Congress a new Speaker is elected by a majority of the House from candidates nominated prior to the election.

There have been 15 instances of Speaker elections requiring multiple ballots (the records for the 2nd Congress, 1791–1793, are inconclusive, and the House has filled vacancies in the Speakership three times using a resolution). Thirteen of 15 multiple-ballot elections occurred before the Civil War, when party divisions were more nebulous. The last time a Speaker election required two or more votes on the floor happened in 2023.

Congress (Years)NameStateFinal
Ballot
Election Date(s)
3rd Congress (1793–1795)MUHLENBERG, Frederick Augustus ConradPA3rdDecember 2, 1793
6th Congress (1799–1801)SEDGWICK, TheodoreMA2ndDecember 2, 1799
9th Congress (1805–1807)MACON, NathanielNC3rdDecember 2, 1805
11th Congress (1809–1811)VARNUM, Joseph BradleyMA2ndMay 22, 1809
16th Congress (1819–1821)TAYLOR, John W.1 NY22ndNovember 13–15, 1820
17th Congress (1821–1823)BARBOUR, Philip PendletonVA12thDecember 3–4, 1821
19th Congress (1825–1827)TAYLOR, John W.NY2ndDecember 5, 1825
23rd Congress (1833–1835)BELL, JohnTN10thJune 2, 1834
26th Congress (1839–1841)HUNTER, Robert Mercer TaliaferroVA11thDecember 14–16, 1839
30th Congress (1847–1849)WINTHROP, Robert CharlesMA3rdDecember 6, 1847
31st Congress (1849–1851)COBB, HowellGA63rdDecember 3–22, 1849
34th Congress (1855–1857)BANKS, Nathaniel PrenticeMA133rdDecember 3, 1855–February 2, 1856
36th Congress (1859–1861)PENNINGTON, WilliamNJ44thDecember 5, 1859–February 1, 1860
68th Congress (1923–1925)GILLETT, Frederick HuntingtonMA9thDecember 3–5, 1923
118th Congress (2023–2025)MCCARTHY, KevinCA15thJanuary 3–7, 20232

Footnotes

1Election held to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Speaker Henry Clay.

2Elected Speaker on calendar day January 7, 2023, and legislative day January 6, 2023.