An Electoral College Tie?

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The Bush-Gore race is undoubtedly tight, potentially the closest since 1976 or even 1960. It also has a slight, but not impossible, chance of being the first electoral tie in American history. The odds are overwhelmingly against Gore and Bush each coming up with 269 electoral votes. But it is possible and given the voting histories of the swing states, it's a scenario worth considering.

How so? Let's take an electoral tour of the country beginning in New England. Bill Clinton carried all six New England states (Connecticut (8 electoral votes), Massachusetts (12 EVs), Rhode Island (4 EVs), Vermont (3 EVs), New Hampshire (4 EVs) and Maine(4 EVs) in 1992 and 1996. The region has become reliably Democratic in the presidential race, even though Bush has an outside shot in New Hampshire or Maine, home of the Bush family retreat Walker's Point. For the moment, let's give the region's 35 electoral votes to Al Gore.

The Mid-Atlantic also looks strong for Gore. In New York (33 EVs) he has close to a 20-point lead and New Jersey (15 EVs), once considered a swing state or even reliably Republican (it went for Nixon in '60 and '68, Ford in '76) now seems safe for Gore. The District of Columbia (3 EVs) is safe for Gore. It's telling that Bush has barely set foot in the Garden State. Maryland (10 EVs) also looks good for Gore. Delaware (3 EVs) and Pennsylvania (23 EVs) are dicier but the trend line looks good for Gore there, too. We're giving Gore the benefit of the doubt here, but don't despair, Bush fans, we're going to be more than generous to the Texas governor. Give the region's 87 votes to Gore.

As we go South, it's Bush country. Even though Bill Clinton won Georgia (13 EVs) in 1992 and Florida (25 EVs) in 1996, the South still trends GOP. So let's give every state in the South to Bush except for Gore's native Tennessee (11) and historically Democratic West Virginia (5 EVs). This means giving Bush hard-core GOP states like Alabama (9 EVs), Mississippi (7 EVs), South Carolina (8 EVs) and Virginia (13 EVs). It means giving him all the states where Dems have a shot, including Louisiana (9 EVs), Arkansas (6 EVs), Kentucky (8 EVs), North Carolina (14 EVs) and the big prize, Florida. That gives Bush 112 votes. Gore, 15.

OK, the battleground states of the Midwest. Let's give Ohio (21 EVs) to Bush. The state went for Clinton in 1992 and 1996, but it's the most GOP-leaning state of all the Great Lakes states. Let's also give Bush Indiana (12 EVs) and Michigan (18 EVs). Illinois (22 EVs) belongs to Gore. Wisconsin (11 EVs) and Michigan are genuine toss-ups, but for the sake of argument let's give Wisconsin to Gore (after all, the state went for Clinton in '92 and '96 as well as Dukakis in 1988). And let's give Michigan to Bush. In this region, then, Bush picks up 51 while Gore picks up 11.

Moving to the plains, the Dakotas (6 EVs), Nebraska (5 EVs), Kansas (6 EVs), Oklahoma (8 EVs) are safe Bush states. Minnesota (10 EVs) and Iowa (7 EVs), a Dukakis and Clinton state, looks solid for Gore. Missouri (11 EVs) is a toss-up, but let's be generous and give it to Bush. In this region, Gore, 17, Bush 25.

In the Southwest, give everything to Bush except New Mexico (5 EVs) where Gore has a good shot of winning. That gives Bush Texas (32 EVs), Utah (5 EVs), Wyoming (3 EVs), Colorado (8 EVs), Idaho (4 EVs), Montana (3 EVs), Nevada (4 EVs). In this region, it's Gore, 5 and Bush, 59.

On the Pacific Coast, let's give the whole thing to Gore. California (54 EVs) looks like a cakewalk for Gore. Oregon (7 EVs) and Washington (11 EVs) will be tough climbs for Gore, but these Dukakis-Clinton states should trend Democratic in the end. That's 72 electoral votes for Al Gore.

Finally, split the last two states of the Union, giving traditionally Democratic Hawaii (4 EVs) to Gore and Alaska (3 EVs) to Bush. Hawaii, which is linked economically as much to Japan as the United States, has been suffering from Tokyo's recession and could surprise. But the same bet is that it will go to Gore. That's 4 electoral votes for Gore and 3 for Bush.

The result is a never-before-seen 269-269 tie. The odds of this happening, again, are pretty small. Bush could win New Mexico and Oregon and take the prize. Gore could peel off Michigan. Lots of states are in play. But a close election means that an electoral college tie is possible, although I think at the moment the map looks better for Gore thanks to that California-Northeast combo.

If there is an electoral tie, all bets are off. Under the constitution, the election goes to the House of Representatives, where each state delegation gets one vote. That would favor Bush who, in this secenario, has not only the majority of states under his belt but the majority of state delegations in the House. But it's impossible to predict what lawmakers would actually do. What if there was an electoral tie but a popular vote majority? Would legislators feel compelled to follow the polls nationally or in their states or in their districts? What if the state went for Gore in the popular vote but Republicans control the Congressional delegation? Would they buck their state? No one knows, which is what makes the American electoral system at once frightening and exhilarating.