Published October 16, 2012
With less than a month until Election Day, the race for the White House has become either man’s to win — or no man’s clear victory.
Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s performance during the first presidential debate closed the gap between him and President Obama and it has yet to be seen how the second debate will move the polls. Obama was much more aggressive and energized in the second debate, and there is a remote chance both men could end up with 269 electoral votes, falling short of the 270 needed to claim the Oval Office.
“Mathematically there is a possibility,” says Christopher Arterton, professor of political management at The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management. “It’s a slight possibility that a particular constellation of the battle ground states line up for either side and could lead to tie in Electoral College.”
One scenario on election night goes like this: Obama carries the same states in 2008 including swing states Colorado and Virginia and Romney holds onto the states Sen. John McCain picked up in addition to Indiana and North Carolina as well as crucial swing states Ohio, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.
Our founding fathers planned for such an occasion in the 12th Amendment, which provides that the House of Representatives, which would include newly-elected members, would vote for the next commander in chief. Each state, no matter its size, gets one vote, and the first candidate to achieve 26 votes will take the oath of office -- and there is the chance lawmakers don’t choose the candidate who received the majority vote.
“If it’s a tie, the working assumption is that Republicans are more likely to control majority of states, and would then in turn elect Romney,” said Jack Rakove, historian and professor of political science at Stanford University.
As House members are casting their vote, the Senate is charged with selecting the new vice president. Each senator gets one vote and a simple majority elects the next vice president. And with many experts predicting the Senate to remain under Democrats’ control, Vice President Joe Biden would likely take the victory, creating a Romney/Biden Administration.
The chances of this scenario playing out are slim, but it has happened. In 1824, all four candidates failed to receive an Electoral College majority, and the House voted John Adams president despite Andrew Jackson receiving the most electoral votes.
Before putting the country’s leadership in the hands of lawmakers, Arterton says there would be attempts to get an elector to change his or her vote, but that might be hard to do. “If someone is elected for Obama and voted for Romney or vice versa, I would imagine they wouldn’t want to be showing their face in the state capitol building.”
Meanwhile, a tie would make the 2000 Bush vs. Gore debacle look like smooth sailing.
“Whenever we face a constitutional crisis, like an impeachment and so forth, the question becomes whether the elected representatives are going to act like statesman or politicians,” says Arterton. “If there were to be a tie there would be all sorts of interest group pressure. Imagine the type of Super PAC spending that would go on influencing public thinking over congressional action, it would create a prolonged unhappiness throughout much of December and January.”