I Am Off My Sleep Schedule

Staying up late on election night has fowled up my sleep schedule. This left me with several hours last night/this morning when I couldn't get to sleep. This gave me the opportunity to answer a question that has surely been burning in everyone's brain since the results of the election became known: What will happen in the incredibly unlikely event that there is an exact tie in the electoral vote on election night, 2008, and simultaneously absolutely no seats in either house of congress changes parties that night?

First, an overview of hour Our Big Dumb Electoral System handles ties. In the event that no candidate receives an absolute majority of votes in the electoral college (Possible if a third party actually wins electoral votes, and also possible if the two major-party candidates split the elecoral college vote down the middle, getting 269 votes each) the decision of who will be president is thrown to Congress. But it's thrown to Congress in a really goofy way.

We first throw out the entire vote by the people as a whole; that whole election we just had doesn't count. That's why, in 1824, John Q. Adams, a member of the House of Representative, became President by a vote of his House colleagues, despite having come in well behind Andrew Jackson in both the popular and the electoral vote. It's like we're having a whole new presidential election, where the only people allowed to vote are Congresspersons.

But the goofiness doesn't end there. It's not a strict one-congressperson, one-vote election. It's an Electoral College style vote: We take a vote of all the congresspersons from a given state, then whichever candidate gets the majority wins that state's whole vote. And, as another concession to our founders's anti-democratic impulses, we have a Senate-style Wyoming-is-just-as-important-as-California equalizing system: Every state gets exactly 1 vote. Moreover, in order to win a candidate must receive an absolute majority of states. If no candidate receives (with the current number of states) 26 states, they hold another vote, and another, and another, until someone does have a majority.

The fun doesn't stop there! The President is voted on by the House, the Vice President by the Senate, so a split ticket is highly possible. Moreover, if, within a state's delegation, the votes for the two candidates are exactly even the state is considered deadlocked and abstains. But that doesn't reduce the number of states the candidate needs to win; you need 26 regardless of how many states deadlock. Deadlock wouldn't be too common in the House, but it'd happen quite a bit in the Senate, making VP selection rather thorny.

So: In the event of a tie, the President will be determined by the party that has the majority of House members in a majority of the states. The Vice President, in theory, will be determined by the party that has both senators in a majority of the states. As a practical matter, so many states will have split Senate delegations that the number of abstentions means neither party will have a majority, so the VP will be picked through massive Senate politicking.

So, what result from our current Congress? Let's find out!

Assuming straight party-line voting, the Democratic candidate would win the presidency, with support from the states of Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The Republican Candidate would get support from Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming.

The states of Arizona, Kansas, and Mississippi would be deadlocked. New Mexico, right now, could swing either way: It has three house seats, one is definitely Democratic, one is definitely Republican, and the third is currently close and being recounted, with the Republican enjoying a lead of a couple hundred votes.

So the Republican would get 20 states (21 if they get New Mexico), the Democrat 26 states (27 with New Mexico).

The Vice President would be quite goofy; there are 17 states with two Republican senators, 18 with two Democratic senators, and 15 with split delegations. So the Democrats would have a slight advantage in the struggle to convince people to vote for their candidate, but it could really go either way.

Conclusion: Our system is dumb. Also: This is another reason not to get too excited about third-party Presidential candidates. Barring a big reform of the system for handling less-than-majority electoral college votes, any candidate successful enough to win electoral votes massively increases the chance that Congress will pick the President.

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on November 9, 2006 11:13 AM.

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