Could the United States have a tie election? This seems increasingly unlikely, but in the interest of Election Day fun I’ll speculate.
With the electoral contest still in doubt, new polling data continue to receive considerable media attention. The presidential election will likely come down to a handful of states. These states – all of which Obama won in 2008 – will determine the election.
We are a large country, but pollsters continue to rely on unbelievably small samples. Groups of 1,000 are used to gauge the opinion of 130 million voters. There is a great risk of underrepresentation, especially among media wary conservative voters.
Conventional wisdom is that Romney will win if he carries Ohio and Florida. Obama wins if he carries either Ohio or Florida, as the margin of a Romney victory is believed to be around 15 electoral votes. Ohio has eighteen and Florida 29.
Romney’s path to victory lies through the states carried by George W. Bush in the 2000 election. Due to population changes, the Bush v. Gore map is more favorable to the GOP in 2012. The states that produced a slim 271-267 victory for Bush over Gore would produce a safer 285-253 victory for Romney over Obama. With Bush 2000 as the model, Romney could still win the election if Obama were to take Virginia, where the population of the government-employee-heavy D.C. suburbs have grown, or if Romney if were lose a smaller state like New Hampshire.
But there is potential for a tie if Romney fails to carry particular Bush 2000 states.
For example, if Obama wins in Virginia but loses Florida, and Romney wins Ohio but loses in Colorado, we could be headed for a 269-a-piece split. If the race is that close, then Romney will have to watch Nebraska to ensure that it does not split its electors and award one to Obama as it did in 2008. Obama will have to ensure that Maine does not award an elector to Romney, but that seems far less likely to occur. Maine and Nebraska are the only states to award electors based on the results in individual congressional districts.
In this case, the Congress will choose the president and vice president. This could be a major cause of concern should partisans decide to take to the streets. Protests could spiral out of control. Hopefully the nation’s governors have security plans in place.
In the case of a tie, the U.S. could be looking at a divided administration in 2013. The Constitution reserves to the U.S. House the right to chose the president if no candidate gains a majority in the Electoral College. The GOP-controlled House would vote by state delegation with each delegation having one vote, and a quorum requirement of at least one representative from at least two-thirds of the states. The Senate would choose the vice president. If the Democrats maintain control of the Senate, they would likely re-elect Biden. Although, there is the possibility of a VP filibuster if one side does not get its way. The Constitution requires a quorum of two-thirds, or 67 senators, to be present to initiate a vote for the vice presidency if no candidate for vice president wins a majority of the Electoral College. No one expects that either party will gain a two-thirds majority in the Senate. We could have one party decide to walk out and prevent the election of vice president. However, there is nothing in the Constitution that prevents a president from taking the oath of office in the absence of a vice president-elect. The concern would be civil strife.
All things considered, I think we are heading to a clear Romney win in the Electoral College. Let’s hope so – we could use a break.