About Me

I am Associate Professor and Chair of the History Department at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. I am also the Academic Director of the Clemente Course in the Humanities, in New Bedford MA. Author of "Social Security and the Middle Class Squeeze" (Praeger, 2005) and the forthcoming "Saul Alinsky the Dilemma of Race in the Post-War City" (University of Chicago Press), my teaching and scholarship focuses on American urban history, social policy, and politics. I am presently writing a book on home ownership in modern America, entitled "Castles Made of Sand? Home Ownership and the American Dream." I live in Providence RI, where I have served on the School Board since March 2015. All opinions posted here are my own.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Crazy election scenarios, part 1: an electoral college tie

Could the 2012 presidential election result in a tie in the Electoral College?
Yes, and the scenario -- while unlikely -- isn't wildly improbable either.
In order to be elected president, a candidate must win at least 270 electoral votes.  If you tweak the potential results in 7 battleground states, for example, and assume no surprises in those places already assumed to be in one column or the other, you can get to a 269-269 tie.
Three states with 22 electoral votes (Iowa, Nevada, and Wisconsin) would have to be in the Obama camp (all are thought to be leaning that way), while four states with 69 electoral votes (Colorado, Florida, Ohio, and Virginia) would have to be in the Romney camp.  Of these 4 only Florida appears to be leaning toward Romney, but all are very close.
Here is the state-by-state breakdown, under this scenario.  The 7 battlegrounds are marked with an '*' (sorry if the formatting is wonky): 
Obama                                                      Romney                                  
California                        55                    Alabama                       9
Connecticut                       7                    Alaska                           3
Delaware                           3                    Arizona                       11
D.C.                                   3                   Arkansas                       6
Hawaii                               4                    Colorado*                    9
Illinois                             20                    Florida*                     29
Iowa*                                6                    Georgia                       16
Maine                                4                    Idaho                             4
Maryland                         10                    Indiana                        11
Massachusetts                 11                    Kansas                           6
Michigan                         16                    Kentucky                       8
Minnesota                        10                    Louisiana                      8
Missouri                          10                    Mississippi                    6
Nevada*                            6                    Montana                        3
New Jersey                      14                    Nebraska                       5
New Mexico                     5                    New Hampshire             4
New York                        29                    North Carolina             15
Oregon                               7                    North Dakota                3
Pennsylvania                   20                    Ohio*                           18
Rhode Island                      4                    Oklahoma                      7
Vermont                            3                    South Carolina                9
Washington                     12                    South Dakota                  3
Wisconsin*                     10                   Tennessee                     11
                                                                Texas                            38
                                                                Utah                                6
                                                                Virginia*                       13
                                                                West Virginia                   3
                                                                Wyoming                         3   

Total                              269                    Total                         269
The 12th amendment to the Constitution is quite clear about what would happen next.  The presidency would be decided by the newly elected House of Representatives, with each state delegation casting one vote.  Barring a highly unlikely Democratic takeover of the House tomorrow, the end result would almost certainly be a party line vote in favor of Mitt Romney.  While Obama's support largely comes from the most populous states, Romney would have support from a higher number of states.  And even in some of the states Obama is likely to win -- like PA, OH, and WI -- the majority of their House delegations are Republican.

It would be quite something, no question, if this were the result -- among other things, it might be incredibly destabilizing politically, particularly if a case could be made that GOP voter suppression efforts (voter ID laws) played a role in swinging even one state (Florida would be, once again, the most likely culprit).  Of course, if that case cannot be legitimately made, the Constitution says what the Constitution says, and Mitt Romney would rightfully become the 45th president.

Perhaps the strangest part of this whole scenario actually involves the selection of the vice-president.  The Senate makes this decision, which at first blush appears to mean that Romney would be joined by Joe Biden.  However, the 12th amendment (and Senate rules) are silent on whether a minority of US Senators could use the filibuster to frustrate the will of the (Democratic) majority.  If the Senate parliamentarian allows the use of the filibuster, the presiding officer of the Senate (who would be, of course, VP Biden) could ignore that advice, and call for a straight-up vote.

Which could result in a 50-50 tie.  However, unlike other decisions over which the Senate regularly presides, Biden could NOT then break the tie.  The 12th amendment calls for a majority.
No one knows what would happen at that point.  Presumably they could continue to deliberate, until 1 person changes their mind.  It is possible some other individual -- not Joe Biden, and not Paul Ryan -- could be selected, if 51 senators could agree.

There will, of course, be a great deal of pressure for the Senate to select Ryan, since the House will decide first.  But if Obama-Biden won the popular vote on Election Day, there will also be a great deal of pressure to select Biden.  One probably shouldn't discount the fact that Biden was a US Senator himself for a very long time, and has many friends on both sides of the aisle.

That said, I think this scenario is extremely unlikely, because Colorado and especially Ohio are most likely going to wind up in Obama's column.  Obama also holds a small but steady lead in the polls in Virginia, and demographic changes since 2008 make a surprise Obama victory in Florida a decent possibility too. 

One should also keep in mind that there still are a couple of states (Maine, Nebraska) that allow the splitting of electoral votes.  While this is unlikely, its not impossible, and it could break the deadlock before it gets to the House (most likely in Romney's favor).

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