The Possibility of a 269-269 Tie in Presidential election

Larry Sabato outlines how it is possible — not likely, but not exactly far-fetched — that the presidential election next month will end in an electoral college tie, which would throw the outcome of the election to the House of Representatives and guarantee Romney would get the win.

The simplest way to explain this scenario is that Obama retains all the states John Kerry won in 2004, while adding New Mexico and Ohio. Under the 2004 map, that would make Obama president. But the 2010 reapportionment sent a handful of electoral votes from the Blue states to the Red states: just enough to make this scenario an exact 269-269 tie. But 269 would make Romney president, because in the event of a tie, the new House of Representatives would pick the president: each of the 50 delegations would get a single vote. Given that Republicans are almost assuredly going to control a solid majority of House delegations in the next Congress (see below), Romney would win.

Of course, this scenario involves Romney winning Nevada, but that might be very difficult. The Democratic machine in the Silver State that carried Sen. Harry Reid (D) over the finish line in 2010 appears to still be operating at full efficiency; Democrats continue to have a wide registration advantage in Nevada, and Jon Ralston, the prominent Nevada politics expert, believes that Obama has a lead there and that polls understate his advantage, much like they did for the president in 2008 and for Reid in 2010.

We don’t have a dog in this race, but we are rooting for one thing: no tie! A 269-269 Electoral College outcome would inevitably be a national crisis on par — or worse — with the 2000 Florida cliffhanger, especially if Romney lost the popular vote.

If that last paragraph had a “like” button, I’d push it about a thousand times. I really, really hope that doesn’t happen. The results would be very, very ugly.

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  • slc1

    Mr. Sabato, who a former Democratic activist in Virginia once told me is considered a joke in that state, assumes that the Rethuglicans will control at least 26 delegations in the new House. That’s not a slam dunk by any means.

  • eric

    To give a bit more detail, the tie requires that Obama takes the ‘toss-up’ states of Ohio, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire, while Romney takes the toss-ups Florida, Virginia, Iowa, Colorado, and Nevada.

  • The Lorax

    I think the only thing left to do is to encourage everyone to vote. Conservatives are going to be going out in droves, since they’re of the mindset that they’re doing noble work (or, for many of them, the work of their deity). Unlike many, they’re highly motivated to vote. We need that motivation on the liberal side.

  • brucegee1962

    Mr. Sabato, who a former Democratic activist in Virginia once told me is considered a joke in that state

    A friend of mine in the UVa poli sci department told me that he was referred to within the department as “Dr. Dial-a-quote.”

  • dingojack

    *ahem*.

    Market says… no.

    Dingo

    —–

    Most likely outcome:

    Democratic: 254

    Republicans: 184

  • sivivolk

    Seriously, just switch to using the popular vote to determine the President. This is absurd.

  • dingojack

    Holy Brain Fart, Batman!!

    I meant, of course 312 to 225.

    Dingo

  • cry4turtles

    Then the only thing we would be able to say with pride, “The way for a Republican to win the American presidency in the past two decades is for *him to steal it.” *”him” is intentional

  • jamessweet

    Luckily, the odds are looking pretty small. Nate Silver has it at 0.6% presently.

  • jamessweet

    Mr. Sabato, who a former Democratic activist in Virginia once told me is considered a joke in that state, assumes that the Rethuglicans will control at least 26 delegations in the new House. That’s not a slam dunk by any means.

    No, but it’s the more likely outcome. Not a slam dunk, but in the highly unlikely event of a tie, that’s probably what would happen.

  • Randomfactor

    Any scenario ending with Mitt Romney in the White House would be very, very ugly. Having the House hand him the keys might be better than most in that it would incite civil disobedience.

  • http://www.gregory-gadow.net Gregory in Seattle

    The thing is, the Framers intended for the presidential election to be thrown into the House.

    As originally written (insert neocon cries of “Original intent!”), the Electors were appointed by state legislatures, and were independent, not tied to any party. First, the electors would vote for President. They could pick anyone, as long as they came to a majority agreement. Once they picked a President, they would pick a Vice President. Again, they could pick anyone, as long as they came to a majority agreement. The Electoral votes were forwarded to the Senate; on a day set by law, the body would unseal the results and add them up. The expectation, based on writings by the Framers themselves, is that there would be no clear winner. The election would be handed to the House, where small states would have the decided advantage of having to wrangle fewer people to reach an agreement for the state’s delegation. After all the hoops had been jumped through, the most popular man would become President, while his chief rival would become Vice President and, thus, President of the Senate. Checks and balances: one to lead the Executive and one to lead the Legislative.

  • felicis

    I hope it does happen – then we might finally have the impetus necessary to do away with the electoral college once and for all…

  • baal

    We’ve seen recently that the US political system throws ‘ties’ to the republican. I think I even saw an article that voter suppression is worth 2.6% of the popular vote.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Given the blatant and systematic voter purges and intimidation campaigns we’ve seen orchestrated by Karl Rove, I think a little ugliness is just what America needs as a response, tie or no tie. If Romney wins, there will be a plausible case to be made that he won by ugly means, and would not have won without such means.

    None of us want any ugly civil strife, but a credible threat of it may be the only way to deter and punish those who want to take away all our rights.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Pah, typical Liberals, advocating your Second Amendment Solutions when you lose an election! Real Americans® sit quietly in such situations, and don’t formulate and spread absurd conspiracy theories!

  • krgrace

    It’s a clever scenario, but in reality it can’t happen. In the 19th century, yes, but now, no. Now, a 269-269 tie would certainly be broken through litigation…the electoral votes of one or more states would be “corrected.”

  • konrad_arflane

    We don’t have a dog in this race, but we are rooting for one thing: no tie! A 269-269 Electoral College outcome would inevitably be a national crisis on par — or worse — with the 2000 Florida cliffhanger, especially if Romney lost the popular vote.

    OK, I’m not American, so maybe there’s something I don’t understand. But. Why would a 269-269 tie constitute a “national crisis”? If, as I gather from the rest of the article, the US constitution provides a relatively simple tiebreaker rule, where’s the crisis? I can understand that whichever side lost the election on a tie would be gutted, but there wouldn’t be any way to accuse somebody of undue political interference, unlike in Florida (since courts are supposed to be politically independent, but elected representatives are not).

  • gworroll

    Even crazier, the Senate would pick the Vice President.

    We could end up with President Romney and Vice President Biden. I suppose one of the houses could swallow their pride and vote against party loyalty in the interests of a smoothly running executive… which means Ryan as VP. The Democrats have shown far more willingness to compromise with Republicans than Republicans have shown towards Democrats. They’d be much more likely to accept Romney/Ryan than the Republicans would Obama/Biden.

    Biden would probably end up the weakest Vice President in decades if this happened. Presidents have lately been giving the VP stuff to do, but they can effectively just be shut out of anything of importance unless the President has to leave office early. What would Bidens role, if any, be in a Romney administration while Romney is still around?

    Oh, to really scare you, the House could in principle tie, as could the Senate. This would leave us with no President, and no Vice President. This means President John Boehner.

  • slc1

    Re gworroll @ #19

    An even crazier scenario is that neither party is able to control 26 delegations in the House and they are tied 50/50 in the Senate. Remember that Vice President Biden is still vice president when the vote is held in both chambers. In the case of a 50/50 tie in the Senate, he can cast the deciding vote, in this case voting for himself as vice president!

  • Chiroptera

    A 269-269 Electoral College outcome would inevitably be a national crisis on par — or worse — with the 2000 Florida cliffhanger, especially if Romney lost the popular vote.

    If I remember correctly, the crisis was how Florida and then the US Supreme Court handled the matter concerning the botched elections in that state.

    Now, if I remember correctly, Bush won the Presidency without a plurality of the popular vote. That part of it did not develop into a crisis (although some of us were hoping it would so that the electoral college would have ended up abolished). And if that didn’t, I just don’t see how a tied election being decided by the House of Representatives would be more likely to result in a crisis.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    kgrace: another possibility is that one or more electors could change their votes — with or without intense lobbying from the candidates.

  • lpetrich

    In this vein, there’s the possibility of Romney winning the popular vote while Obama wins the electoral vote.

    I recall from somewhere that back in 2000, the Republicans were planning a campaign to discredit the Electoral College if GWB won the popular vote and Al Gore won the electoral vote.

    It would have been fun if they had done that.

  • gworroll

    slc1@20:

    That could deliver us President Biden if the house deadlocks.

  • eric

    konrad @18:

    Why would a 269-269 tie constitute a “national crisis”?

    Basically, because we don’t want any system other than the regular one sprung on us at the last minute. It feels wrong, even if its been on the books as a backup system for decades/centuries.

    While people don’t really like the electoral college system, its generally considered “fair” in an informed consent kind of way – i.e., you knew what you were getting when you went into the voting booth. The problems are known, well understood, and (grudgingly and grumpily) accepted. At least for the moment. :) The point is, nobody on either side is going into that booth thinking the House will get to pick the President, so if that happens, the losers are going to be really upset.

    Even proponents of a popular vote would likely balk at putting it in place this late in an election cycle, for similar but not identical systems. Its upsetting when there’s a major system change at the last minute. Those should really be performed with a significant amount of lead time, so that people have a chance to get used to the change and understand how it might affect them.

  • http://www.gregory-gadow.net Gregory in Seattle

    The results of the plebicite should be obvious by the morning of November 7. The actual vote for President is not until December 17, “the Monday after the second Wednesday in December.” While most states require that their electors vote their mandate, several states do not.

    If the plebicite results in an electoral tie, you can bet that unbound electors will be placed under tremendous pressure, the likes of which has never been seen in US politics. I’m not even sure if there are any state or federal laws to deal with the situation. Pardon the phrasing, but it will be a cluster-fuck. It will make the 2000 election look like a polite disagreement over whether the wall was painted off-white or ecru.

  • porfirioreyes

    I would love to see a tie. The Lib’s would be in a tizzy when Romney’s declared the winner LOL

  • slc1

    Re gworroll @ #24

    Actually, to be perfectly accurate, Biden would be the acting president.

  • Chiroptera

    porfirioreyes, #27: The Lib’s would be in a tizzy when Romney’s declared the winner LOL

    Mainly if the House declares Romney the winner after Obama wins a plurality of the popular vote. And for good reason, in my opinion. In my opinion, there should have been a huge uproar when Bush won 2000 despite Gore winning the popular vote.

    On the other hand, if Romney would win the popular vote but either the electoral college or the House of Representatives gives the election to Obama, I, for one, will be relieved, but at the same time there will be some of us who will ask the conservatives, “Now are you ready to make a change in how the election is decided?”

  • gworroll

    scl1@28:

    IIRC, the deadline for Congress to sort all this out is March 4th. If it’s not done by then, we do not have an elected President and will not until January 2017(hopefully, that one goes better).

    When there is no President to potentially resume his duties, the Vice President is sworn in as President in his own right. While I don’t know that the law spells that out for this specific scenario, the precedent seems clear. Deaths through illness or assassination, and resignation, have always seen the Vice President sworn in as President in his own right. I’d expect the same to be done here.

    The later chaos comes with who Biden appoints as Vice President. He could in theory appoint Obama, Obama gets confirmed, Biden resigns, Obama is sworn in as President, appoints Biden who is confirmed and resumes his duties as Vice President. That would be fun.

    But there’s no way in hell the Republicans would let that happen. The Democrats don’t have the votes to overcome a filibuster, and attempts to do this could lead to all sorts of political drama. Would this be considered to be a Senate usurpation of a House power? Would the fact that the House never actually did their job matter? Limbaugh and company would have lots of material, that’s for sure.

    My money would be on Hillary Clinton as his first choice, given the impossibility of getting Obama confirmed. If not her, a respected Governor or former General.