How the Electoral College Could End In a Tie

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Oct. 2 2012 11:37 AM

The Unlikely Electoral College Scenario That Ends In a 269-269 Tie

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A boy points to Missouri on CSPAN's 2012 US Presidential election electoral map at the American Presidential Experience exhibit September 3, 2012 in Charlotte

Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/GettyImages.

New York Times' psephologist Nate Silver wondered aloud last night whether the Electoral College could return a split decision this November, with both President Obama and Mitt Romney earning 269 electoral votes, or one shy of the 270 needed to clinch the race. 

While unlikely, that scenario isn't exactly impossible to imagine given Silver's latest FiveThirtyEight forecast, which has the president with an 85 percent chance or better of winning in 21 states. If you add up the electoral votes at stake in those states you get ... you guessed it, 269. If you then assume the rest of the electoral votes go to the GOP challenger, that leaves us with the event that would undoubtedly cause Twitter to explode: a 269-269 tie. 

Of course, while the 269-apiece scenario may be easy to get to looking at the map, that doesn't make it even close to likely. For starters, it assumes that Obama wins all 21 states he's currently heavily favored in and not a single other, including a handful where he has a significant-but-not dominating lead.  So what are the odds of the sister-kissing tie? 0.6 percent. Silver explains:

"Fortunately, such an outcome remains quite unlikely. Of the 25,001 simulations that we ran on Monday, a 269-269 tie came up in 152 model runs, or about 0.6 percent of the time. Still, this probability has roughly doubled from a few weeks ago, when the chances had been hovering at about 0.3 percent instead." 
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And what happens in the event of a tie? The election heads to the House, where Republicans would likely hand the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to Romney.

You can read Silver's full post here, which also breaks down a small handful of other, even-less-likely scenarios that would send the race into overtime.

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

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