How An Electoral College Tie Could Happen

Elections 2016

If you’re a fan of the Broadway musical “Hamilton,” you can probably name the one time a presidential election ended in a tie: the election of 1800, when Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr each received an equal number of electoral votes.

There is a real chance that 2016 could become the second.

Yes, it’s a long shot. But as this year’s World Series taught us, never dismiss a long shot too soon.

As I write this post, FiveThirtyEight’s “Polls Plus” model estimated Donald Trump a chance of winning the presidency right around 30 percent. But in the case of an Electoral College tie, those odds skyrocket, since the Republican-controlled House of Representatives would then decide on the winner. (Could the Republicans lose control of the House? It’s not impossible, but Republicans hold their largest House majority since 1928 and pretty much no one thinks Democrats can close that gap this year. But it isn’t as simple for the GOP as just holding their majority. Let’s back-burner this topic for a moment.)

So how do we get to an Electoral College tie? Here’s one scenario. Assume Trump loses all of the three major industrial states he has tried to put in play: Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. This result generally follows recent poll data in those places. Colorado and New Mexico both seem safely in Democratic hands too. Iowa and Ohio were leaning toward Trump at this point, so let’s say he wins both, along with Nevada and Florida, which were very close. Let’s also give Trump Utah, despite it being less safe than it would be in another year.

For simplicity’s sake, we can assume Clinton would win all four electoral votes in Maine and that Trump would pick up all five in Nebraska. These two states could, in fact, split their votes, though Maine has never done it before. (Nebraska did split in 2008, when the district containing Omaha and its suburbs went to Obama while the rest of the state went to John McCain.) For now, though, we’ll leave these votes unsplit, just as I did back in September.

Trump badly needs to take New Hampshire, which is a stretch for him given the current numbers. If he did not secure New Hampshire’s four electoral votes, could he pick them up elsewhere? He might, possibly in next-door Maine. While the state has gone Democratic in every presidential election since 1992, Maine’s residents did elect Republican Gov. Paul LePage – more than once. Stranger things have happened.

The real lynchpin for Trump to have a hope of winning, or even tying, the Electoral College will be North Carolina. Polls and the resulting predictions have lately been very close there, and much of the outcome will probably come down to voter turnout. If voters, especially minority voters, turn out in force in urban centers like Charlotte and Raleigh, it could tip things toward Hillary Clinton’s camp; similarly, the state has several major college campuses, and how many of the students are registered to vote – and in North Carolina rather than their home states – could make a difference.

Clinton’s campaign is clearly well aware of North Carolina’s strategic importance. Not only did Clinton and her running mate, Tim Kaine, visit the state this week, but Obama and Joe Biden have also made or will make appearances in Chapel Hill, Charlotte and Fayetteville. Other high-profile Clinton supporters, including Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Lena Dunham and Will Ferrell have also recently appeared or plan to appear to persuade North Carolina voters to turn out for their candidate on Tuesday.

If Clinton wins North Carolina, the presidential election is effectively over. It is hard to see where Trump could pick up those 15 lost votes in a map where I’ve already given him several of the current close calls. But if Trump wins North Carolina, an electoral tie remains possible. Clinton needs 270 votes to win, but given our system, Trump probably only needs 269.

A mini, or perhaps not-so-mini, constitutional crisis could erupt if Democrats make significant gains in the House, which would choose the next president if the Electoral College resulted in a tie. Right now, Republicans have majorities in 33 state delegations, while Democrats dominate 14 and the remaining three are evenly split. While the GOP can expect to keep its overall majority in the next Congress, if the Republican-majority state tally is reduced to 25 or less, the next Congress won’t be so presumably Trump friendly. But which version of the House will get to decide – the one that will be in office when the electoral votes are counted in December, or the one that will be sworn into office on Jan. 3, 17 days before the next president is due to take the oath?

The 12th and 20th Amendments, which established the tie-breaking procedures and the swearing-in dates, are less than crystal clear about this. We have not had a tie since the 20th Amendment moved the start of the new congressional and presidential terms up to January from March. So things are apt to get, shall we say, heated if the current House tries to select the next tenant of the Oval Office.

Four years ago, I considered the possibility of President Mitt Romney serving with Vice President Biden. That was because, in the case of an Electoral College tie, the Senate chooses a vice president – voting individually, rather than state-by-state like the House. Given the races as they currently stand, do I think we could end up with a Democratic Senate that would install Tim Kaine under President Trump if the current Senate is blocked from choosing Mike Pence? Come back Monday, when we’ll talk about the odds facing Democrats who want to regain Senate control for their party.

Disclaimer: This page contains affiliate links. If you choose to make a purchase after clicking a link, we may receive a commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you for your support!

About Larry M. Elkin 564 Articles

Affiliation: Palisades Hudson Financial Group

Larry M. Elkin, CPA, CFP®, has provided personal financial and tax counseling to a sophisticated client base since 1986. After six years with Arthur Andersen, where he was a senior manager for personal financial planning and family wealth planning, he founded his own firm in Hastings on Hudson, New York in 1992. That firm grew steadily and became the Palisades Hudson organization, which moved to Scarsdale, New York in 2002. The firm expanded to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2005, and to Atlanta, Georgia, in 2008.

Larry received his B.A. in journalism from the University of Montana in 1978, and his M.B.A. in accounting from New York University in 1986. Larry was a reporter and editor for The Associated Press from 1978 to 1986. He covered government, business and legal affairs for the wire service, with assignments in Helena, Montana; Albany, New York; Washington, D.C.; and New York City’s federal courts in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Larry established the organization’s investment advisory business, which now manages more than $800 million, in 1997. As president of Palisades Hudson, Larry maintains individual professional relationships with many of the firm’s clients, who reside in more than 25 states from Maine to California as well as in several foreign countries. He is the author of Financial Self-Defense for Unmarried Couples (Currency Doubleday, 1995), which was the first comprehensive financial planning guide for unmarried couples. He also is the editor and publisher of Sentinel, a quarterly newsletter on personal financial planning.

Larry has written many Sentinel articles, including several that anticipated future events. In “The Economic Case Against Tobacco Stocks” (February 1995), he forecast that litigation losses would eventually undermine cigarette manufacturers’ financial position. He concluded in “Is This the Beginning Of The End?” (May 1998) that there was a better-than-even chance that estate taxes would be repealed by 2010, three years before Congress enacted legislation to repeal the tax in 2010. In “IRS Takes A Shot At Split-Dollar Life” (June 1996), Larry predicted that the IRS would be able to treat split dollar arrangements as below-market loans, which came to pass with new rules issued by the Service in 2001 and 2002.

More recently, Larry has addressed the causes and consequences of the “Panic of 2008″ in his Sentinel articles. In “Have We Learned Our Lending Lesson At Last” (October 2007) and “Mortgage Lending Lessons Remain Unlearned” (October 2008), Larry questioned whether or not America has learned any lessons from the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s. In addition, he offered some practical changes that should have been made to amend the situation. In “Take Advantage Of The Panic Of 2008” (January 2009), Larry offered ways to capitalize on the wealth of opportunity that the panic presented.

Larry served as president of the Estate Planning Council of New York City, Inc., in 2005-2006. In 2009 the Council presented Larry with its first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award, citing his service to the organization and “his tireless efforts in promoting our industry by word and by personal example as a consummate estate planning professional.” He is regularly interviewed by national and regional publications, and has made nearly 100 radio and television appearances.

Visit: Palisades Hudson

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.