With the latest polls suggesting at least the possibility of an electoral college/national vote split — most likely where President Obama wins the electoral college while Mitt Romney narrowly wins the national vote — I’ll make one suggestion. It may be a good idea for Bob Schieffer to carve out two or three minutes during the final debate to get the candidates to commit on record in advance, in a very public place, that they would fully support the electoral college winner – or, in the even more unlikely event of an electoral college tie, the winner of the vote in the House of Representatives. He could also ask them, for what it's worth, of their view of the electoral college system in general, since we may be headed for controversy about it.
The truth is that it’s still quite unlikely we’ll see a split or a tie. Nate Silver’s estimate right now is that there’s a combined possibility of under 8 percent, and I suspect that’s overstating it. Besides, while some will consider it an injustice if there’s a split even if the losing candidate wins by even the narrowest of margins in the national raw vote, the farther away we get from a true tie popular vote, the less likely a national vote/electoral college split becomes.
And there’s nothing that can be done about the more likely source of trouble: a repeat of 2000 in which one or more very close state results send the election to the courts. That’s a lot more likely to cause real problems, but no campaign will (or, really, should) agree in advance not to fight for what it sees as a fair count of the ballots. In such a fight, the national vote winner might have a bit of an advantage in the spin wars, but the law and the courts will make more of a difference.
While I don’t think a tie would lead to chaos, it’s not entirely impossible. As long as a split vote or a tie is a plausible result, I don’t think it would hurt to get the candidates to remind their followers that the electoral college is the final word – and that once it’s clear how each state voted, we’ll know the winner of the election. No harassing electors, no calling the winner illegitimate. Unpopular? Sure, but the winner fair and square.