It’s the white whale of American elections: elusive, mythical and never realized. But could it finally happen this year? The likelihood that President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will each net 269 electoral votes in November, instead of the 270 needed to win, is actually not so farfetched — and for close observers of the Electoral College system, a tie would set off a wave of constitutional and political mayhem that would make the 2000 Florida recount seem like a tidy affair. Election results in key states would immediately be subject to legal challenges. Electors, normally an anonymous batch of party insiders elected to ratify each state’s winner with their electoral votes, would be lobbied to change their votes by friends, neighbors and political leaders. Swing states could decide U.S. election Alex Castellanos’ electoral map James Carville’s electoral map Ultimately, the House of Representatives could elect the next president, even if that candidate lost the popular vote.
“What it would reveal is that we have, in some sense, a profoundly undemocratic mechanism for dealing with a tie,” said Alex Keyssar, a professor of history and social policy at Harvard University, and a critic of the Electoral College. “I think there would be an enormous outcry over that.”
A quick reading of the electoral map shows that the prospect is startlingly real. This year’s list of battleground states is now familiar to anyone following the race. The campaigns and their allies are spending money in states where the polls are tight: Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Nevada, Colorado, New Hampshire and Iowa.