What If the Presidential Election is a Tie?


The United States, picks its president with the Electoral College, 538 votes distributed by population (mostly) to the 50 States and DC. To become president you need to win a majority of those votes. But, 538 is an even number, so what happens when the race for president is tied?

Don't worry, there's an 18th century solution to the problem: if the Electoral College is tied, the House of Representatives breaks that tie.

As the name implies, the House is filled with representatives from each of the states. The more people in a state, the more Representatives it has and their are 435 in total -- thankfully an odd number and guaranteed tie breaker... except there's a catch: each representative doesn't get one vote, it's each State that gets one vote. So, Florida's 27 representatives have to decided amongst themselves who to support before casting Florida's one vote to help break the tie.

Meanwhile, thinly-populated Alaska's sole representative, has only to consult himself before casting Alaska's vote.

This is an incredibly disproportionate system because just ten states, California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, and North Carolina contain more than half the population of the United States but get only 20% of the votes if the race for president is tied and the other 40 states with less than half the population get 80% of the votes.

While an exact tie is unlikely, this system is also used if they're more than two candidates for president and none of them gets a majority in the Electoral College.

Which is exactly what happened when four candidates ran for president in 1824. Andrew Jackson got the most votes from Americans and the most votes in the Electoral College, but not a majority, so the race was turned over to the House of Representatives voting as states who picked John Quiny Adams instead.

In a modern America with more states a three-way race can have horrifically disproportionate results: consider a third-party candidate who the loves the small states and who the small states love in return.

He gets the fewest Electoral College votes, but enough to ensure that neither of the two more popular candidates get a majority so now the House decides the winner -- and those 26 smallest states representing just 17% of the population can pick their man as president even though 83% of Americans didn't vote for him.

It's unlikely, but it really shouldn't even be possible.

Anyway, all this talk of presidents has left the Vice President unmentioned: a reasonable person might assume, just comes along with the President, but no.

When there's a tie the Senate independently picks the Vice President so the United States, could end up with a President from one party and with a Vice President from the another, which might make for some very uncomfortable meetings.

But even this crazy system for resolving a tie isn't guaranteed to work because are 100 members of the senate and in the House of Representatives they're forced to vote as 50 states and many of those states have10 or 8 representatives making the whole system tie-tackular with all of those even numbers.

So if the House can't pick the president but the Senate has picked the Vice President then the Vice President becomes acting president until the House can make up its mind. But if neither the House can pick the president nor the Senate can decide the Vice President then the speaker of the House becomes president until either branch of congress picks someone.

So this systems is how the United States would resolve a tied race for president, though it might be faster (and more fair) to just flip a coin.

Of course you could just get rid of the electoral college, and thus this whole crazy system, and instead have a national vote, perhaps even with something fancy like preferential voting, maybe that's just a crazy idea.