Presidential race could end in an Electoral College tie

In sports, people often say a tie is like kissing your sister. In a presidential race, a tie would be like getting run over by a semi, then kissing your sister and finding out she belongs to a different political party.

Analysts, pundits and just regular observers are starting to wake up to the very real possibility that the presidential race could end in an Electoral College tie, 269-269. Press this link to see one scenario put together by Deseret News Editor Paul Edwards. It’s not the only scenario that provides such a result.

So, what happens in the event of a tie?

Fortunately, the Constitution has a remedy. Unfortunately, it’s messy and not the least bit satisfying. I consider myself a fan of the Electoral College, but even I don’t like how this works out.

A tie might give us a President Mitt Romney and a Vice President Joe Biden. That either would signal the end of hyper-partisanship or, more likely, the start of the most dysfunctional White House in history.

This is the sort of plot that makes for a compelling movie or a best-selling book, but it’s no way to run the most powerful nation on earth, and the two candidates would probably just go at it again in 2016, prolonging the agony.

This CNN story outlines what happens in the event of a tie (or if there are three or more candidates and no one gets 50 percent of the Electoral College). You can pick up any copy of the Constitution and read the 12th Amendment to work it out on your own.

Simply put, the House would choose the president and the Senate would choose the vice presidential winner. But the House would do it on a one-state, one-vote basis. North Dakota’s vote would count the same as California’s.

The Senate, on the other hand, would conduct a simple vote of its members.

Mitt Romney would win in the House. Republicans currently hold majorities in 33 states and that isn’t expected to change dramatically. But Democrats currently hold a majority in the Senate. If that holds, we might end up with a split White House.

Before we get to that point, however, a lot of things would happen. The first is likely a collection of recounts in states where races were close, along with lawsuits, depending on just how close those results were.

Then the electors themselves would have to meet to actually cast their votes. Many states do not bind their electors, meaning they could turn rogue and vote for whomever they wish. As the CNN piece notes, the lobbying these electors would endure would be intense.

Even if you were chosen by the people of your state to elect a certain candidate, the temptation to go down forever in history books as the one person who swung the 2012 election might be too great.

The likely date at which the House would meet to select the president would be Jan. 7. Congressional members are sworn in before the presidential inauguration on Jan. 20. That means the current House, the lame-duck House, would by then have saved the nation from the fiscal cliff and gone away. The president and vice president would be chosen by the newly elected Congress, putting an added emphasis on House and Senate races this fall.

To be honest, the odds probably are against all this playing out. But it could, just maybe, happen. And, frankly, I hope it doesn’t.

It’s not just because kissing one’s sister can be uncomfortable. It’s because this could be the biggest challenge yet to confront the Constitution.

About the Author

Jay Evensen

Jay Evensen is the Senior Editorial Columnist for the Deseret News. He has 32 years of journalism experience covering politics and a variety of other assignments at news organizations ranging from United Press International in New York City to the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Deseret News, where he has worked since 1986. During that time, he has won numerous local, regional and national awards. Most recently, he was given the Cameron Duncan Media Award, given annually in Washington, D.C., by the advocacy group RESULTS, to the journalist judged to have done the most to further the cause of the world's poorest people.

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