An Electoral College tie – and what it would mean

October 19, 2012

The presidential race appears to be getting closer just two and a half weeks before voters will cast the deciding ballots.

And more and more, political analysts are suggesting that it's a very real possibility that nobody will win on Election Day -- i.e. the Electoral College vote will wind up knotted at 269.

It's still very unlikely that such a thing would happen -- but it was also unlikely that 537 voters in Florida would decide the presidential race, as they did in 2000.

In other words, it's worth exploring.

Before we get to what would happen in the case of a tie, here are a few scenarios under which it would come to pass.

These scenarios assume that the map stays largely as-is over the next two-plus weeks, with Mitt Romney winning GOP-leaning states like Arizona and Missouri, and President Obama carrying blue-leaning states like Michigan and Pennsylvania.

For the purposes of this exercise, let's leave Ohio and North Carolina as swing states, even though The Fix has moved Ohio to "lean Obama" and North Carolina to "lean Romney." (These states remain the most competitive "lean" states.)

Here are five scenarios under which we would have a tie:

Scenario No. 1: Obama wins New Hampshire, Ohio and Wisconsin, while Romney carries Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia. This appears to be the most likely scenario, given New Hampshire, Ohio and Wisconsin seem to be pretty fertile territory for Obama, with some analysts suggesting they represent his "firewall."

Scenario No. 2: Obama wins Colorado, Virginia and Wisconsin, while Romney carries the rest.

Scenario No. 3: Obama carries New Hampshire, North Carolina and Virginia, while Romney carries the rest.

Scenario No. 4: Obama carries Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire and Virginia, while Romney carries the rest.

Scenario No. 5: Obama carries Colorado, Nevada, New Hampshire and Virginia, while Romney carries the rest.

Now, these are hardly the only possibilities. If you add Michigan and Pennsylvania to the mix, in fact, there are 32 ways to get to a tie.

And if you add in Maine and Nebraska, that creates many more possibilities. (Both states award some of their electoral votes by congressional district; Obama won one electoral vote in the Omaha-based district in 2008, and there is some thought that Romney could win Maine's more rural 2nd district on a good day.)

If Obama won Omaha along with Ohio and Virginia, for example, we would have a tie. And if Obama won New Hampshire, Nevada, Virginia and Wisconsin but lost an electoral vote in Maine, we would also have a tie. Adding these states as variables -- however unlikely -- creates a ton more scenarios.

So there are a lot of possibilities, even as most of them currently appear very unlikely. (It's hard to see Obama, for example, carrying North Carolina but not also carrying Ohio, rendering Scenario No. 3 very unlikely.)

If somehow, though, we got to a 269-vote tie, the task of electing the president would fall to the House of Representatives -- the new one that will assume office in January. According to the 12th Amendment, each state delegation would cast one vote, with the winner determined by whoever wins more states.

Since we don't know exactly what the House will look like, we can't say with certainty who would have the edge. But it's very unlikely that an Electoral College tie would wind up in Obama's favor.

Currently, the GOP has more members of Congress in 33 states, while Democrats have more in 16 states. One state -- the great state of Minnesota -- is split evenly.

It would take a huge wave for Democrats to wind up in control of more state delegations than Republicans -- a wave that both appears unlikely and would likely also lead to Obama winning the electoral vote by a very comfortable margin.

Democrats have at least a shot to steal congressional delegations from Republicans in nine states -- Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Wisconsin -- but they would need to win basically all of them, which would require that huge wave.

In other words, a tie, in all likelihood, would lead to President Mitt Romney.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix, the Post’s top political blog.
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Aaron Blake | October 19, 2012