The worst thing that can possibly happen the day after the election isn’t a win for your candidate’s opponent.
It’s a tie.
And it’s actually politically possible. It’s even quite plausible.
There are a handful of swing states in play at the moment, including Nevada, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin and Colorado. Any combination of these will lead to an outright win and an outright loss for each campaign, which has to hit 270 electoral votes to grab the White House.
Except one scenario.
It’s the night of Election Day, and, as predicted, Pennsylvania is called for Obama relatively quickly, and North Carolina — where, let’s say the Obama campaign pulled out in October, is summarily called for Romney.
But, after shifting around resources and coughing up a swing state to reallocate resources, Romney outperforms expectations in adopted home New Hampshire. Florida — while still very close — is leaning Republican.
Obama, who needs some good news, picks up Virginia in the early evening. But then, there’s a shift. The Midwest Republican turnout was high, and Ohio and Iowa are called for Romney, but Obama keeps Wisconsin.
Now, the western states are phoning in the results, and after a blistering air war in Nevada, it looks like Romney is going to win it. Still, a tight race in Colorado has Obama in the lead.
By midnight, all the races are called. Romney has picked up North Carolina, Florida, New Hampshire, Iowa, Ohio, and Nevada — all well within his reach. Obama has scored Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Colorado and Virginia. It’s settled.
Neither of the candidates have hit 270. They’re tied at 269.
What the hell happens now? It goes to Congress. The incoming House of Representatives holds a special session where each state delegation gets a single vote. California’s 55 member House delegation gets together and picks which candidate they will give their one vote to, just as Wyoming’s single House Representative picks who gets his state’s vote.
The House votes in January until one candidate gets 26 votes, an outright majority of the fifty states.
So nobody in the country knows who the president is going to be until the House meets and votes after 1:00 PM on January 6th, two weeks before the man is due to be sworn in.
But here’s the scariest possibility.
Let’s say that after a drubbing on the presidential level, the house races are an abject catastrophe, and a many are still too close to call the morning after — six have already entered automatic recount mode, and attorneys for another four races have already filed court papers.
Now, House delegations with an outright, non-threatened one-party majority — the New Yorks, the Alaskas — would bring the total of Obama 14, Romney 20. But let’s say several tossup house races and seats make it so that states with a split majority, like Iowa, Florida, and North Carolina shift to the left. When a dozen specific final races are called for Democrats — presumably after being caught up in months of litigation and recounts — the state delegations from a number of crucial swing states are split, with some a hair for the Democrats.
|Democratic Delegations||Republican Delegations|
|AZ CA CO CT DE FL HI IA IL ME MD MA MI MN NH NJ NM NY NC NV RI WA VT WI||AL AK AR GA ID IN KS KY LA MS MO MT NE ND OH OK PA SC SD TN TX UT VA WY WV|
Final tally? 25-25. To select the President, someone has to give. And with congress as entrenched as it is right now, and with the stakes as high as they are, there isn’t a President, and there will not be a President.
That’s where the Veep comes in. At the same time that the House is hashing out who the President will be, the Senate is deciding who is the Vice President. And at the same time, they’re selecting the President — if the house is deadlocked, the Constitution states that the elected Vice President takes office on January 21st.
The Senate takes a normal vote, majority rules, without any of the delegation nonsense. But what if there’s a tie in the Senate? According to the constitution, the Vice President cannot vote this time. They too may literally be deadlocked, and the Speaker of the House — assuming someone has been elected to that post, and that the House Majority isn’t still at stake — would be sworn in in that event.
While certainly not likely, all of this Tom Clancy-esque political drama is within the realm of possible, if not a little improbable when it comes to the house delegate voting.
So on Wednesday November 7th, if we have a President, those with sour grapes should at least take comfort in the fact that hey, it could be worse.