The US Election - What if there's a tie?

By BILLY LUCAS - Editor-in-Chief



America is a quirk. That it was built on the premise of democracy and of secularity makes it the greatest experiment ever attempted on Earth, and, of course, quite something to behold. It holds to reason therefore, that its electoral system will be equally groundbreaking - and indeed it is. Few other nations on earth operate with an Electoral College Vote (ECV) system, and given its convoluted and peculiar nature, for good reason too. With tensions rising and a matter of hours to go before the results roll in, it is entirely plausible that neither Trump nor Biden will reach the 270 Electoral College votes required to enter the White House in January. What would happen then?


Before the counterfactual fun begins, it is necessary to first understand how the system works. Each of the 50 states vote on their preferred presidential candidate, and in 48 of those states the candidate with the most votes wins. Simple? So far. 


The winning candidate in each state takes the Electoral College votes that the state has been allocated, which is loosely based on population size (number of votes = Senate and House seats put together). California, with a population of nearly 40 million, has 55 EC votes, whilst Wyoming, with a population of around 500,000, has only 3 EC votes. To win the presidency, a candidate needs an absolute majority of Electoral College votes, so half of the total 538, which is 269, plus one extra - 270.


If Joe Biden is able to hold onto the states that Hillary Clinton took in 2016, and pick off Wisconsin, Michigan and Arizona, which looks likely, it would take him to 269 EC votes. Donald Trump would be reduced to 269 EC votes, and that enticing tie-breaking vote would be just ever so slightly out of grasp of either candidate. Here is where the Constitution really gets a dusting off and a working out, and the wrangling begins for the first time since 1837…


If neither candidate meets the required threshold, and there is no dramatic 2000 Florida style recount which flips a state, then, in accordance with the Constitution, the fate of the presidency rests in the hands of Congress. Under the 12th Amendment (later modified by the 3rd section of the 20th Amendment), the incoming House and Senate will decide upon the positions of President and Vice President, respectively. 


So a simple majority vote in the House of Representatives to decide on the President is all it takes? Wrong.


The Constitution dictates that each state’s delegation in the House will cast a vote ‘en-bloc’ - and a simple majority of states, 26, is required to select the winning candidate. This is where it becomes confusing, again. Whilst there was a ‘blue-wave’ in the 2018 midterms, solidifying a Democrat majority in the House, which is unlikely to be toppled in today’s congressional elections, despite having a majority of the seats, the Republicans hold a majority of states, exactly 26 of them. But the delegations of states are incredibly close - Pennsylvania is tied 9-9, Florida splits 14-13 in favour of the Republicans, and Michigan is 7-6-1 in favour of the Democrats. Some of these seats are vulnerable for the Democrats, whose strong showing in 2018 means they are now defending multiple purple seats. If it’s a tie or neither candidate reaches that magic number 26, the vote is repeated and repeated until someone wins. Nerve shredding stuff.


The Vice Presidential choice in the Senate, is mercifully, slightly easier. A simple majority of Senators is all that is required to select the winning candidate. Yet despite the Senate being in favour of the Republicans at the moment 53-47, the portion of Senate seats that are also up for grabs today means Democrats, according to the polls, have a good chance of recapturing the Senate, by picking off Senators such as Susan Collins in Maine and Joni Ernst in Iowa. If the House is still deadlocked, then the winning Vice Presidential candidate from the Senate will be inaugurated as President, at least until the House breaks the deadlock. 


And if the Senate is also deadlocked on inauguration day? Step forward Nancy Pelosi, who, in her capacity as Speaker of the House of Representatives, would be sworn in as President under the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, at least until the deadlocks in the House and Senate are broken. 


The Constitution is a marvelous thing. It laid the foundations and nurtured a fledgling former colony into becoming a colossal superpower, and in the process of trying to account for every result and every eventuality, became one of the most convoluted and technical documents the world has ever seen. 


So whilst a tie tonight is incredibly unlikely, don’t be surprised if on inauguration day the House of Representatives has approved President Donald Trump, and the Senate Vice President Kamala Harris...


Image - Unsplash.



  • White Facebook Icon
  • White Twitter Icon
  • White Instagram Icon