Monday, October 22, 2012

The Obvious Way to Fix the EC Tie Problem

Necessary preface: I think it's highly unlikely that we'll get an Electoral College tie, and I don't really think it's a big deal if we do -- assuming that Republicans in the House would have the votes (which appears highly likely), they would simply announce immediately that they were voting for Mitt Romney, and everyone would agree that the election was over with Romney the winner. Recount and lawsuit issues could leave the election muddled, but a tie per se is highly unlikely to do so.

At any rate: someone over the last few days was tweeting out an old blog post which argued that the problem could be fixed by simply increasing the size of the House of Representatives by one, to 436. That would make the Electoral College number odd: 436 plus 100 from the Senate plus three for the District of Columbia under the 23rd amendment would equal 539.

It's a bad idea! Sure, it would solve the Electoral College problem, if you think it is a problem (I'm skeptical, but there is at least some possibility of mischief if the election goes to the House). But only at the expense of having an even number in the House, which just pushes the problem there. The Senate by design has an even number, but also a tiebreaker; the House really would have a mess if the parties had an absolute tie.

But really this is just an excuse to mention that the obvious solution is DC statehood. Then you get to keep the House at 435, but with the repeal of the 23rd you eliminate the extra three. Post-statehood, you have 435 plus 102 plus 0, for 537.

(The way you get around the Constitution is that Democrats draw a New Columbia map that includes all of the regular residents of the District except for a handful of reliably Democratic voters, and move that as a regular statehood resolution while simultaneously moving a Constitutional amendment... you could either do the amendment to simply repeal the 23rd amendment electoral votes for the resident-free remaining Federal District, or you could make DC a regular state and get rid of the Federal District entirely. Given that the choice for Republicans would be to agree to the amendment or give the Democrats three extra Electoral Votes, my guess is it would take about a week for the thing to get through Congress and enough states. Once, that is, Democrats had enough votes to pass the statehood law through both Chambers. Of course, this only happens in years with unified Democratic control).

Okay, look -- I know that the House is often not at full strength, and survives just fine with an even number of Members. And, yes, once again, I think that an Electoral College tie is both unlikely and, if it happens, unlikely to cause trouble. But as long as people are talking about it, I might as well bring this one up again.


  1. If DC had happened to be majority Republican, do you think that it would have gone all this time with its population having no representation?

    Personally, I think that we would have been treated to a non-stop stream of arguments from all of the usual media outlets (including mainstream ones) about the AWFUL INJUSTICE of it until DC was given representation. But because the population is mostly Democrats, it is irrelevant and verboten.

    1. ...and the same goes for Puerto Rico. Of course it helps that these are areas in which there are significant numbers of minorities. If they were mostly white people, it wouldn't stand.

  2. In the event of an EV tie, each STATE gets one vote, not each member of Congress. Voting continues until there is a winner. So the raw number of members is not an issue, although adding DC as a state would prevent a first-round tie.

    1. But his proposal is to avoid ties in the Electoral College without setting up the House for potential ties in normal, everyday votes.

  3. I still don't understand why this is a better solution than abolishing the electoral college and having a national popular vote. Or why any other solution would be.

  4. I'm not quite sure on this, but would the vote take place with the current house, or with the new house comprised of the members chosen on election day?

    I suppose what annoys me the most is that an outgoing house could choose the President for the next four years, after having been voted out of office.

    It seems like the most effective tie-breaker is popular vote, right? Highly, highly unlikely to be tied and gives the power to the majority vote of the country. I imagine the founders were intent on giving the tie breaker to the states, but I don't see any reason to keep at it.

  5. think there's...some possibility of 537 or 539 EV in the foreseeable future? Hm. (Note to self: go register "" and "" anonymously - for all inquiries except Nate Silver's of course).

  6. My first reaction when reading this post was, "Well, why not break a tie with the national popular vote."

    This was quickly followed by realizing that there is no official national popular vote. In fact, the federal government basically does no vote-counting. The states do all the counting for Congressional elections.

    One more reason why a national popular vote just wouldn't work: imagine setting up some mechanism for all 50 states (and all of their precincts, counties, cities, etc) to each report uniformly to the federal government. And, horror of all horrors, imagine a nation-wide recount.

  7. I've never quite understood why the solution for DC hasn't just been to give it BACK to Maryland. After all, Virginia's contribution to the district was given back to Virginia in 1846; why can't Congress just give back the residential parts of DC to Maryland?
    Maryland would gain a seat in the next census (perhaps the House would temporarily swell to 436 until then?), seats that would most likely be Dems (and, interestingly enough, this looks like it might come from the Dems, as the "narrowest" apportionment was Minnesota's, who nearly ended up with 7 seats, and that would likely be a Dem seat, I'm guessing).
    Naturally, the even-numbered House for a whole decade would be bad, but the whole situation is bad.

  8. This is kind of an aside, but I've been thinking a lot about this today as all my fave bloggers have been talking about the electoral college: who cares? If either Romney or Obama show even a little bit more strength in the national tracking polls for a few days, then the conversation will be about what an Obama second term will look like (or what a Romney Presidency will look like if it goes the other way.

    I know that wasn't the point of your post, and it was an informative read.

  9. The real problem with a tied Electoral College vote isn't with the presidency but the vice-presidency, because it could go to someone of the opposite party--in 2012 a Romney-Biden administration seems the most likely outcome of a tie. Now, you might ask, what's wrong with that? (I'll assume that Romney wins the popular vote, so that few people will question his moral as well as legal claim to the presidency.) Nothing, as long as the president stays alive. But I don't want a situation where, say, a helicopter accident or, worse, an assassination, could change the party controlling the White House.

  10. Since this came up. Currently, 33 state delegations are majority republican, 15 are majority Democratic, and 2 are tied.

    So, given the 1 "vote" per state in the House, if a Presidential election gets there, the current House (which I think would have to be the one that votes) would vote 33-15, with 2 abstentions, for Romney.

    Given what I've read about how Congressional races seem to be going, I wouldn't expect the split to change much in the new Congress.


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