Pandemic politics: What if Biden and Trump tie in the Electoral College? History provides a guide | Mark O’Keefe

April 29, 2020 6:30 am

While the nation is in the throes of a pandemic, looming in the background is the 2020 presidential campaign which figures to be one of the ugliest and dirtiest elections in the history of our country.

There are certain to be many twists and turns before the Nov. 3 when we find out if former Vice President Joe Biden is successful in his bid to deny President Donald Trump a second term in the White House.

However, there could be another twist that would make all the furor and controversy surrounding Trump seem like child’s play.

There’s a chance that there could be a tie in the Electoral College with both Biden and Trump getting 269 votes, one vote short of the 270 needed to win the presidency.

We’re not talking about some unrealistic plans concerning the alignment of the planets. It’s already happened twice in the history of our country. Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Barr each received 73 Electoral College votes in 1800. Members of the House of Representatives eventually sided with Jefferson.

There was a four-way split in 1824 with House members picking John Quincy Adams even though Andrew Jackson had won the popular vote.

There are reportedly about 20 scenarios where Biden and Trump could end up gridlocked, but the easiest way would be for Biden to win Arizona, Michigan, and Wisconsin in addition to all the states that Hillary Clinton won in 2016.

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That would give Biden an additional 37 votes plus the 232 votes Clinton received. Trump’s total of 306 would be reduced by 37, giving him 269 votes.

What happens if there is a tie? Well, under the 12th Amendment, the election would be decided by the U.S. House of Representatives.

Each state would get one vote as determined by their congressional delegations. But the key is that it would be the House members elected in the upcoming 2020 congressional races who would pick our next president.

Currently, there are 26 delegations with a majority of Republicans and 23 with a majority of Democrats. Pennsylvania is tied with nine Republicans and nine Democrats. Thus, it wouldn’t be able to take part in the process.

It does seem likely that Republicans will continue to control most of their delegations, as the one they have in question is Florida, which has14 Republicans and 13 Democrats.

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Democrats, meanwhile, have three delegations in question with one-vote leads. They are Arizona, Colorado, and Michigan.

In the end, if Democrats win control of Pennsylvania and Florida, the House would be tied, 25-25.

What happens next?

Well, under that same 12th Amendment, the U.S. Senate decides who the vice president would be. That’s right, we could well have a Democratic president and a Republican vice president or vice versa.

If there’s a tie in the House, the vice president as voted by the Senate would be our next president. The election would be held among the senators elected in the fall of 2020. Each senator would get one vote.

Republicans hold 53 of the seats in the Senate with Democrats numbering 45 and independents two. The independents usually caucus with Democrats meaning the Republicans could only lose four seats before ceding control of the chamber and in all probability the presidency in 2020.

There are 35 seats up for grabs in the fall, including two special elections to fill vacant seats.
Experts doubt there will be major changes as most states are strongly aligned with either the Democratic or

Republican parties. However, five U.S. Senate races could go either way. They are being held in Iowa, Colorado, Alabama, Maine, and Arizona. Those elections could be particularly crucial if the votes by the Electoral College and the House of Representatives end in ties.

To further complicate matters, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule by June on an issue concerning the Electoral College.

The court is expected to if Electoral College members can vote their conscience or if are they mandated to vote for the candidate who has the most votes in their state.

In the 2016 elections, seven members took matters into their hands and voted according to their conscience.
While that didn’t matter back then as Trump had an overwhelming lead in the Electoral College, such turnarounds could decide the 2020 presidential election.

One can only imagine what would happen if the election is decided by rogue voters in the Electoral College. The hue and outcry could result in the country’s biggest split since the Civil War.

Let’s hope nothing like that happens. We need to have a clear winner in the fall with the loser accepting his fate graciously.

While Republicans have strongly defended the Electoral College, they could have a change of heart if it ends up benefiting Democrats this time around.

Opinion contributor Mark O’Keefe, of Mechanicsburg, Pa., is the former editorial page editor of the Uniontown Herald-Standard. His work appears biweekly. 

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Mark O'Keefe
Mark O'Keefe

Opinion contributor Mark O'Keefe, of Mechanicsburg, Pa.,  is the former editorial page editor of the Herald-Standard of Uniontown. His work appears biweekly on the Capital-Star's Commentary Page.