As Mitt Romney continues to make gains in swing state polls in the wake of his dominant debate performance last week, it’s becoming increasingly possible that Americans could wake up on Nov. 7 to a 269-269 Electoral College tie. In such a case, Romney would almost surely win the presidency, according to analysis by the Washington Examiner.
Under the U.S. Constitution, in the event of an Electoral College tie, the presidential race is turned over to the House of Representatives (assuming no unexpected defections when the electors formally vote in December). And here’s the twist: Each state would get just one vote, based on what the majority of its own delegation decides. A candidate would thus need 26 votes to win.
In 1800, the last time this happened and state delegations split evenly in their House members’ choice of president, those states (Vermont and Maryland) cast blank ballots. (In that election, because the congressional and presidential inaugurations were held on the same day, the outgoing House chose the president instead of the incoming one. This would not happen today, because the new Congress is sworn in before the electoral votes are counted.)
The Washington Examiner took a detailed look at current House delegations and considered the range of realistic outcomes in this year’s Congressional elections, including changes due to reapportionment. By our estimates, Romney should have at least 26 states safely, with Obama having at least 13 and 11 states up in the air, pending the outcome of the Congressional elections.
Most of the Romney states are pretty obvious: Alabama, Arkansas, Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.
The remaining states we gave to Romney (Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania) may not be as obvious to readers at first blush, because several of them are likely to vote for Obama. But a closer look at the breakdown of these states’ House delegations shows why they should be considered solidly Romney. For instance, in Pennsylvania, Republicans hold 12 of the state’s 19 House seats, but the state lost a seat following the results of the 2010 Census. The district eliminated was a Democratic one. Democrats are unlikely to make up a six-seat gap in such a close election year. In fact, the Rothenberg Political Report only sees two of Pennsylvania’s Republican seats as competitive, and gives Republicans the edge in both.
The 13 solid Obama states are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Washington and Vermont.
This analysis likely understates Romney’s advantage. We’ve been as conservative as is reasonable, not committing states where the outcome is legitimately in doubt. New Jersey, for example, could have a majority Democratic delegation in January, or it could end up tied. Democrats have a better-than-even chance of seizing one or both House seats in New Hampshire, and they might gain enough seats in Colorado to control the delegation there. Republicans may or may not manage to tie the House delegation in Iowa, which shrinks from five to four. Other states, such as Nevada, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, Arizona, Rhode Island (where Rep. David Cicilline is in some trouble) and Minnesota are legitimately in question.
The website 270towin has identified 32 different scenarios that could result in an electoral vote tie. One example, demonstrated in the map generated from CNN at the top of this post, would be if Romney were to win Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, Iowa and Nevada — while Obama wins the rest of the swing states.