So What Happens If Obama and Romney Tie?

So here’s a pop quiz for you all: Do you remember what happens if President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney battle to an Electoral College tie? Think back to that high school American Government class. It’s worth spending a second or two refreshing ourselves on the process.

Is it likely that the two candidates will tie at 269 electoral votes each? No. Nate Silver currently projects that as a .3% chance. But there is a conceivable map out there. For example this one where Romney wins Florida, Virginia, Iowa, Colorado, and Nevada while Obama holds serve elsewhere.

Well, the result is that the election will be turned over to Congress. Specifically, the House of Representatives will choose the President and the Senate will choose the Vice President.

To be clear, the bodies making this choice will be the new House and Senate sworn in on January 6. Each state’s delegation gets one vote, meaning that almost guaranteed “Blue State” Ohio will cast its one vote for Mitt Romney because — barring something extraordinary — their delegation in the House will be similar to the delegation in this Congress, 13 Republicans to 5 Democrats.

A tie will always favor Mitt Romney even if the Democrats successfully recapture the House in this election because with one vote per state, the fact that Republicans hold sway over numerous rural states while the Democrats tend to elect multiple members from very few urban states means that the House state delegations are predominantly Republican. For example, if the current House of Representatives decided this election, Mitt Romney would win 33-15-2 (2 states have equally split delegations).

Meanwhile, Paul Ryan faces an uphill challenge if things don’t change in this election. Each Senator gets one vote in the election of Vice President making control of the Senate critical to this election. Assuming the Senate is held by the Democrats (and independents that caucus with the Democrats), Joe Biden is likely to prevail. Get ready for the Romney-Biden ticket!

Obviously there could be wheeling and dealing. In states like Ohio that could well definitively vote for Obama, will the Republicans in the House risk backlash by “stealing” that result? Maybe, maybe not. But when this happened in 1824, Andrew Jackson won more states in the election but the House shoved him aside in favor of John Quincy Adams, so maybe the House will vote down straight party lines.

The moral of this story is that we’ll hear a lot about how it’ll take “270 to win” and while that’s true for Barack Obama (and Paul Ryan), Mitt Romney can probably skate by at 269.

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