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If Obama and Romney tie in the electoral college, then what?

July 11, 2012|By Jon Healey
  • Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney addresses the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People's annual convention in Houston on Wednesday.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney addresses the National… (Nicholas Kamm / AFP/GettyImages…)

The Times' Paul West offered a provocative bit of speculation Wednesday: There's a non-remote chance that the presidential election will end up in an electoral college deadlock, with President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney tied at 269.

Wrote West:

"All it would take for that to happen: President Obama carries most of the states he won in 2008, including Colorado and Virginia, swing states now rated as tossups. Mitt Romney holds the states that John McCain won last time, recaptures Republican Indiana and North Carolina and carries five swing states that are current tossups, Florida, Ohio, New Hampshire, Iowa and Nevada."

Granted, "all it would take" doesn't quite convey the difficulty each man faces in some of those states, but the outcome West predicted is at least plausible.

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS: Presidential Election 2012

And if it happens, the Constitution calls for the House of Representatives to decide who'll be the next president. Barring a titanic shift in fortunes that enables the Democrats to reclaim that chamber, the House's GOP majority would hand the presidency to Romney.

There's a precedent for this: The House chose Thomas Jefferson at the turn of the 19th century and John Quincy Adams six elections later. And because the process is clearly laid out in the Constitution, it's likely to cause less grumbling among the electorate than, say, having the Supreme Court decide the outcome with a bizarre one-off ruling.

But it's conceivable that the House's choice may not be the guy a majority of American voters supported, as was the case in the race between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson in 1824 (and the race between George W. Bush and Al Gore in 2000). And even if the House's choice was also the top vote-getter, the House's reputation for hyper-partisanship may only lead to more polarization among the electorate. That's the wrong way to start a new presidential term, whoever the winner may be.

Having said that, I have to admit that it's quixotic to think that most Americans will rally around either Obama or Romney after the election. This country is badly split, and my hunch is that the acrimony will linger until unemployment is low, the economy is robust and confidence is high again. Expecting that to happen by January is far too much to hope for.

But what do you think? Is there a better way to resolve a tie in the electoral college than what the Constitution provides? Take our grossly unscientific poll, leave a comment, or do both!

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