The Anatomy of an Electoral College Tie

Publish:  Oct 11, 2012

By: Atlas Research Team


What happens if the Electoral College ends up in a tie? Several people have written about it recently, and while the chances are relatively low, it’s helpful to know what happens if it occurs.


In the event of a 269 to 269 tie, the newly elected House of Representatives would be responsible for deciding the outcome of the presidential election. Each state’s delegation in the U.S. House would vote once for President and each U.S. Senator would cast a vote for Vice President. At least in the House, one vote per state means that smaller states have an enormous amount of influence when compared to larger states: California receives one total vote, as does Wyoming.


There are over 32 tie combination scenarios  using the 11 swing states. Even if you take out Pennsylvania and Michigan, which many no longer consider  swing states, there are still five possible tie scenarios.

Using Cook Political Report ratings as a basis to project the outcome of a tie, the math does not look promising for Democrats. Twenty-five states have a majority Republican congressional delegation and are essentially guaranteed to vote Republican.  Democrats have eleven states (CA, CT, DE, HI, MA, MD, NM, NY, OR, VT, ME) solidly in their corner. The remaining fourteen states are electoral “battleground” states, meaning the outcome of this year’s House races will determine the partisanship of the state and, therefore, the delegation’s vote if there is a tie. Three states’ delegations (IL, RI, WA) will likely end up voting Democrat; two states (FL, MT) will likely vote Republican, and eight states (AZ, CO, IA, MI, MN, NV, NH, WI) can be considered toss-ups.


One state, New Jersey, has the distinction of very likely ending deadlocked, although Democrats will win the state should they score an upset in NJ-03, currently rated as Lean Republican.



Without a strong coattails effect from President Obama (and a subsequent “wave election” where Democrats capture almost all the seats considered “in-play”),  it is unlikely that Democrats will capture the seats they need in order to control twenty-six state delegations. A tied electoral college would provide interesting political theater, especially among states with potentially deadlocked delegations, but the overall outcome would be a foregone conclusion.


This exercise underscores the success Republicans have had in gerrymandering states.  Of the eleven “safe” Democratic delegations, President Obama is almost assured of carrying all of them.  Republicans, however, have a better shot at locking up delegations in such swing states as Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.  Furthermore, solid blue states like Rhode Island, Washington, Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota have delegations that are ostensibly up for grabs.