How to break the tie

In an earlier post, I threw up the hypothesis that a tie in electoral college votes could be prevented by swinging one of Nebraska’s congressional districts to give Obama a 2 vote win. But what happens if there is a tie of a 269 split between both candidates, which is a possibility?

The decision turns to the House of Representatives and the Senate to determine the President and Vice President respectively. In the House, each state gets one vote, with that vote being determined by the congressional delegation states send to congress. Currently, the House looks like this:

  • Alabama – 5 Republicans, 2 Democrats
  • Alaska – 1R
  • Arizona – 4R, 4D
  • Arkansas – 1R, 3D
  • California – 19R, 34D
  • Colorado – 3R, 4D
  • Connecticut – 1R, 4D
  • Delaware – 1R
  • District of Columbia – 0
  • Florida – 16R, 9D
  • Georgia – 7R, 6D
  • Hawaii – 2D
  • Idaho – 2R
  • Illinois – 8R, 11D
  • Indiana – 4R, 5D
  • Iowa – 2R, 3D
  • Kansas – 2R, 2D
  • Kentucky – 4R, 2D
  • Louisiana – 4R, 3D
  • Maine – 2D
  • Maryland – 2R, 6D
  • Massachusetts – 10D
  • Michigan – 9R, 6D
  • Minnesota – 3R, 5D
  • Mississippi – 1R, 3D
  • Missouri – 5R, 4D
  • Montana – 1R
  • Nebraska – 3R
  • Nevada – 2R, 1D
  • New Hampshire – 2D
  • New Jersey – 6R, 7D
  • New Mexico – 2R, 1D
  • New York – 6R, 23D
  • North Carolina – 6R, 7D
  • North Dakota – 1D
  • Ohio – 11R, 7D
  • Oklahoma – 4R, 1D
  • Oregon – 1R, 4D
  • Pennsylvania – 8R, 11D
  • Rhode Island – 2D
  • South Carolina – 4R, 2D
  • South Dakota – 1D
  • Tennessee – 4R, 5D
  • Texas – 19R, 13D
  • Utah – 2R, 1D
  • Vermont – 1D
  • Virginia – 8R, 3D
  • Washington – 3R, 6D
  • West Virginia – 1R, 2D
  • Wisconsin – 3R, 5D
  • Wyoming – 1R

In total, there are 27 state delegations controlled by the Democrats, 21 for the Republicans, and 2 split states. In the case of a split state, they would likely fall down party lines, resulting in the two states being unable to decide how to vote. Extending that, it’s likely that the rest of the members would vote on party lines – meaning that if the House make-up was the same in 2009 as it is now, then Barack Obama would be sworn in as President.

But, with the election, there are quite a few seats up for grabs, and with some of those seats whole state delegations. Alaska has its 1 seat up for grabs, and the Democrats have a very good chance of winning it. Arizona has an open seat (AZ-01), which the Democrats also are targeting like they stand to win it, which swings the whole Arizona delegation to the blue side. That would bring the tally to 29, 20, and 1 split. Embarrassingly, Arizona would then be voting against McCain (his home state) in a presidential vote.

Kansas, the other split state, might fall to the Republicans with an incumbent Democrat in KS-02 facing a hard fight. In the case that it fall red, the count goes to 29 to 21. Still an Obama victory.

In Michigan, 2 seats with incumbent Republicans (MI-07 and MI-09) are being fought over tooth and nail by both parties, with Democrats getting the slight edge because of the awful job Bush has done. Remember the mid-terms in 2006, when the Democrats were swept to a majority in the Senate, and the House went bluer? It’s predicted to happen all over again, and with more force. If the Democrats won those 2 Michigan seats, that would give them control of the Michigan delegation, and the count goes 30 to 20.

Mississippi is currently Democratic, but there is a close contest (a rematch from through the year) for MS-01. The incumbent Democrat beat his Republican opponent in twice in special elections when the seat was vacated, but voter turnout will be double at the general election, which compounds the issue. If the Republican won, the Mississippi delegation would be split 2-2 and the count goes to 29, 20, 1 to the Democrats.

Missouri is currently Republican, but the incumbent Republican in the seat up for grabs in MO-06 is fighting for his life against the former Kansas City mayor. If the Democratic former mayor wins, the Democrats get control of the Missouri delegation, and the count goes to 30, 19, 1. Nevada has a close seat in NV-03, with an incumbent Republican fending off a strong and well-funded Democrat. If the Democrat wins there, the whole Nevada delegation goes blue too, and the count is 31, 18, 1. New Mexico also sits on the fence – NM-01 is an open seat, slightly Democratic (D+2), and is currently leaning to the Democratic candidate. If they were to win, the delegation goes blue and the count goes to 32, 17, 1.

Ohio is a busy state. The Republicans have a 4 seat lead. Extremely unlikely the Democrats could run that down you might think. Well, just hold on. 2 seats are open, OH-15 and OH-16, and the Democrats have fielded very strong candidates. And 2 other seats up for grabs, OH-01 and OH-02, with incumbent Republicans having to fight for their careers against similarly strong Democratic challengers. If Democrats won 3, they would control the delegation, bringing the count to 33, 18, 1. More certain is that they win 2, and split the state, which takes the count to 32, 17, 2.

The only threat to Democrats in Ohio was at seat OH-18, with incumbent Democrat facing reelection in a R+6 (a strong Republican rating) area. Yet the Republican party couldn’t field a strong, or even moderate, candidate, and threw up a guy who has never run for an elected office before. In a case like this, incumbent usually wins, which means little threat to the Democrats. That won’t stop the DNC from throwing piles of money at the seat though.

So the best case scenario for the Democrats? They finish up with a 33 to 18 count, with 1 split state. Not too unthinkable this year, what with the political conditions. Obama would be sworn in as President quite quickly.

The Republicans are praying that the with what stands now (27D, 21R, 2S), they then win the Arizona seat (27D, 22R, 1S), they oust the defending Democrat in Kansas (27D, 23R), win the Mississippi seat (26D, 24R), and hold onto a lot of the other seats that are being challenged. This might ensure a narrow Obama win still.

However, looking a little deeper at the political landscape in the House reveals a much more shaky result. The single House representatives from the Dakotas, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD) and Earl Pomeroy (D-ND), will figure into the plans of both parties. The Democrats have to keep them towing the party line. But Pomeroy, 56 and an 8 term congressman, is a bit of a senior guy in the House and won’t be shoved around by Nancy Pelosi easily. Sandlin is 37 and a first-term freshman, and will get a lot of pressure from back home to vote the way that her whole state did – Republican (likely).

The Republicans will target these two with the following: They come from states that are heavily Republican, and if McCain replicates Bush’s results of 20+ point victories there, there will be big pressure from the state to go that way. It’s a hard request to make of the DNC of single House members representing whole states to go against the state’s popular vote.

If 1 of these two votes McCain, we have a 25-25 state split, and neither becomes President with the Vice President (I’ll get to that, and it’s much clearer) acts as president. In that case, Biden will be the top guy.

However, there is a Republican in a bit of a squeeze in that case. Mike Castle, the sole Republican representative from Delaware and the holder of the only House seat of a state that will vote Democrat, will have the same sort of pressure put onto him, just reversed for the above. Democrats will tell him to vote with his state’s popular vote, with Republicans telling him to tow the line. With a Vice President acting as President from Delaware too (Biden), everything will be coming down on this guy.

It’s a logical and clear progression, but it is also complex and convaluted. As with most political theorising, none of it may matter. But, in the case that it does, you’ll all have a heads up as to what is happening in the House.

As for the Senate, that’s easy. The Democrats currently hold 49 seats, the Republicans 49 seats, and there are 2 independents. The general election should deliver the Democrats at least 5 Senate seats, perhaps more, and the Republicans none. This brings the count to 54 true Democratic seat, 44 true Republican seats, one independent that will vote Biden, and one that might just vote Palin because he can and it won’t change anything (Lieberman). Either way, the VP is a Democrat.

The Senate votes one the Vice President, who will either be sworn in at the same time as the President. However, if the House can’t decide on a President before the Senate decides on a Vice President, the VP acts as the President for the time being. And that’s that for the VP.

So with all that, the difference between Obama and McCain being sworn in could come down to some simple House seats. That’s why the DNC is throwing oodles of money at some of these seats and not others. And it’s also why the RNC is put in a difficult position – try and win the presidential race outright with all their money, or stop giving money to McCain (who will likely lose the presidential race then) to ensure that they have a ‘plan B’.



10 thoughts on “How to break the tie

  1. So how much earlier then the swearing in does the new House & Senate come in?? Could you also detail (obviously closer to the time) how all the Senate confirmations get done by the new Senate in time for Jan 20.

  2. The new Congress is sworn in before January 20 – I think the 3rd. They then formally count the electoral college votes on the 6th. If there’s a tie, then they have (ideally) to the 19th to sort it all out – though, saying that, it’s unlikely (though with the tiniest margin of possibility) that both president and vice president would be decided by the 7th.

    Will happily keep my blog updated with the Senate confirmations get done. I’ll do some research on the process for a new administration, and hope to have a post outlining the process up soon. When it comes to names actually being given to the Senate, I could make some lengthier, more detailed posts about each candidate. Cheers.

  3. Perhaps some hypothesising about potential names too?

    Bill Richardson for Secretary of State;
    Hillary Clinton for Secratary of Health and Human Services;
    John Edwards for Attorney Gen ….. no way!;
    Wesley Clark for Secretary of Defense;
    Anthony Lake for Secretary of Defense or Homeland Security;
    Sam Nunn for Secretary of Defense or Homeland Security;
    David Axelrod for Chief of Staff;
    J. Bradford DeLong for Secretary of the Treasury;
    Barbara Boxer for Secretary of Interior
    Al Gore for Ambassador to the United Nations or some new administrative role for environment;
    Bill Clinton for Ambassador to the United Nations (a step down perhaps?).

    A few of those names will be unknowns, so perhaps a predictions post, like my VP ones, would be good too. Of course, a lampoon post made up of the worst cabinet would be funny to do. Or would that be called the McCain Cabinet?

  4. I doubt Gore will serve in the administration and has said he wouldn’t in a interview on Meet the Press a few months ago. I also like Tom Daschle for a senior role, HHS if Senator Clinton decides to stay outside the tent of the administration as I believe she will do. Her most likely move is to become Majority Leader.

  5. Majority Leader is an option for Clinton, but as a junior senator, with little (in comparison) experience, and probably not as much power as people perceive, there could be a hesitation against her.

    If we’re going by what’s said in the media, Obama has said that he would include Gore in a high-level position in his administration a few times.

    Tom Daschle is a good name to bring up – I had forgot about him. He’s likely to get a spot regardless.

    What I’d be more interested to see is an Obama administration (if there is one) during his second term (if there is one of those too). Not running for reelection, I think some more of his ‘change’ ideas could be brought about – assuming the Democrats still have control of the Senate then (which they probably would if Obama is reelected).

  6. I thought that former flag officers could not be Sec of Def?

    I also think that Obama would want to nominate Hillary as SC Justice. Lincoln did this with Chase to head off a second term rival for his party’s nomination. Whether she would take it is an open question.

  7. Ooops. Flag officers CAN be Sec Def.


    They have to have been retired for at least 10 yrs. For Clark, that would be May 2, 2010, since he retired on May 2, 2000. Congress could pass some legislation to override this, which they did with George Marshall, the first Sec of Def.

  8. Ya, I was playing around with that last night. I thought it was good, but then thought that it didn’t include a handful of the people I think might get some offers.

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