As we all know from school, and by “school” I mean the 2000 election, the winner of the Presidential contest is determined not by the nationwide popular vote, but by electoral votes, which are cast by the aptly-named “electors” of the Electoral College. For more on the purpose behind the establishment of the Electoral College, I would recommend a lunchtime perusal of The Federalist Papers, written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay under the psuedonym “Karl Rove.”
Each state has a number of electors determined by the size of that state’s population, or more precisely, (if memory serves) by the number of U.S. Representatives plus U.S. Senators that state has. California has the most electoral votes at 55, while a few states and the District of Columbia have 3. During the Presidential election, the candidate who wins the popular vote of a given state receives all of that state’s electoral votes (there’s something screwy going on in Nebraska and maybe places elsewhere, but that’s not important right now). Whoever has the most electoral votes at the end of Election Day wins. Yay federalism, yay democracy, yay Founding Fathers for finding the winning combo.
The total number of votes in the Electoral College is 538. Therefore, the candidate who gets 270 or more electoral votes becomes the next Commander in Chief. And now, since I realize I am droning on about things we all know already, I’ll come to the point.
What if there’s a tie?
What if each candidate receives 269 electoral votes? What then? Do we all send a text to Ryan Seacrest? Do we have a nationally televised cage match between a donkey and an elephant? Are Obama and Romney both declared President and forced to rule together and call each other “co-Prez” and “Frenemy in Chief?”
What happens is this: The members of the U.S. House of Representatives take a straight-up vote and whoever wins wins and that guy can start picking out a bullet-proof matching desk and swivel chair, maybe from Oval Office Depot. Or if the incumbent wins he can just go make a sandwich in the White House kitchen and then get back to work destroying the country. I know, boring. It doesn’t have the exciting visual and sound effects of mortal combat between a mule and pachyderm, but as usual, they didn’t ask me.
Still here? Good. So how likely is a tie in the Electoral College? The short answer is “not very.” But sometimes things that are “not very” likely are the most interesting to think about. Like huge asteroids, Vice President Mike Ditka, or double bacon cupcakes. Hold on…
Okay, so it’s not likely to happen, but let’s look at some ways it could happen, some of which are more plausible than others. If we start with the Real Clear Politics electoral map as it looks today, both candidates have a lock on several states and are expected to win several more. That leaves just ten states that are “toss ups”: they’re too close to call at this point and could go either way on November 6.
The ten toss up states and their respective electoral votes are:
Florida (29), Pennsylvania (20), Ohio (18), Michigan (16), Virginia (13), Wisconsin (10), Colorado (9), Iowa (6), Nevada (6), and New Hampshire (4).
If we assume each candidate takes the states he already has in his column based on the RCP electoral count, then Barack Obama is starting with 201 electoral votes and Mitt Romney is starting with 206. Pretty even match, and not suprising given the neck-and-neck state of the race. The map we start with looks like this:
Okay, so what combinations could occur that would result in both candidates receiving an equal number of votes and being deadlocked at 269? There are a few. The most plausible, although as we established not likely, is this:
Romney wins NV, CO, IA, VA, FL and Obama wins OH, NH, MI, WI, PA.
Even less likely are these:
Romney: NH, MI, WI, OH, NV, CO and Obama: FL, VA, IA, PA
Romney: NH, PA, OH, IA, CO, NV and Obama: FL, VA, MI, WI
Romney: PA, OH, WI, CO, NV and Obama: FL, VA, NH, MI, IA
Romney: PA, OH, WI, CO, IA and Obama: FL, VA, NH, MI, NV
Romney: PA, OH, MI, CO and Obama: FL, VA, NH, WI, IA, NV
So there you have it. Now, if we were to take into account all the states, and not just the RCP toss ups, there are doubtless many, many more combinations that would result in a 269-269 tie. But we aren’t going there because, 1) I’m not Rain Man, and 2) those combinations would be so unlikely it would be like Vice President Mike Ditka shooting through space on an asteroid while eating a double bacon cupcake. There might even be a mule and an elephant. I don’t know.
So in conclusion (you’re welcome), it looks as though the current Republican majority in the House of Representatives is expected to hold on Election Day. Therefore…in the unlikely event of a 269-269 split in the Electoral College, the next President of the United States will almost certainly be Mitt Romney. In the meantime, let’s hope his current momentum erases any chances of a tie and the only question left to be answered on November 7 is whether his coat tails were long enough to give him a Republican Senate.