What happens if there is a tie?

Real Clear Politics has the current Electoral College at 201 for Obama, 191 Romney and 146 tossups.  Romney has a 1% lead in the popular vote in the polls, but it is the Electoral College that counts. Each state has at least three electoral votes as they get one per Representative and one per Senator.

Now the tossups are:

  • Colorado 9
  • Florida 29
  • Iowa 6
  • Michigan 16
  • Nevada 6
  • New Hampshire 4
  • North Carolina 15
  • Ohio 18
  • Pennsylvania 20
  • Virgina 13
  • Wisconsin 10

Now lets say Obama wins Ohio 18, New Hampshire 4, Wisconsin 10, Michigan 16, and Pennsylvania 20. That takes him to 269 – the same as Romney would be with Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina, Virgina and Wisconsin.

So what happens?

Well nothing at all until Monday the 17th of December when the Electoral College meets. Except they don’t meet. They meet in their 50(51) state capitals and cast their votes. It is theortically possible for an Electoral College delegate to not vote for the ticket they promised to. This has happened sometimes, but never in a way to change an outcome. The reality is that presidential candidates choose their most dedicated supporters to be the Electoral College nominees for them – so if the election delivered a 269-269 split, then almost certainly the Electoral College would vote 269-269.

Now only if a candidate gets an absolute majority (270) do they get elected. The formal count is done on Sunday 6 January 2013 by Congress in joint session, with the Vice-President presiding.  If the results of a state are disputed (as in 2000) then an objection signed by a Representive and a Senator will cause both bodies to individually consider the objection. Both the House and Senate would need to uphold the objection for it to be valid. This has not happened (upholding an objection) in modern history.

If no candidate has 270, then the House of Representatives is tasked with electing a President. They have done this in 1801 and 1825. However the voting is not a normal majority, but one vote per state delegation. So each state delegation would caucus to determine their vote. It would be the new House that votes and its composition is unknown. But the current House has Republicans in the majority in 33 delegations, the Democrats in 15 and two are tied. So safe to say the House would vote Romney as President easily.

However Ryan may not be Vice-President. The Senate would elect the Vice-President with one vote per Senator and 51 needed. And the Democrats are at 73 at Intrade to retain the Senate, Republicans 19% and 10% for a tie. If the Democrats kept the majority they could re-elect Joe Biden as Vice-President and you would have a Romney-Biden Administration. I suspect in reality the Democrats would vote for Ryan if the House clearly elected Romney, and Romney won the popular vote.

Now what if the House (most unlikely) or the Senate (possible) were also tied. Well if no President is elected by 20 January, the VP would be Acting President. If no President or VP elected, then then Speaker of the House would become the Acting President.

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