The presidential race really could end up as a tie — we should prepare for that now
Donald Trump and Joe Biden (AFP/File)

I don’t want to add to anyone’s stress, so let me preface this by saying that according to modeling by both FiveThirtyEight and The Economist, the likelihood of an Electoral College tie is less than one percent. But this is 2020, a crackpot reality TV star who barely speaks English remains competitive in the presidential race and clouds of mosquitoes are killing cows and horses in Louisiana. If any year is going to throw us an anxiety-inducing curveball that threatens to rip the country apart, this one seems like a strong candidate.

What happens in an Electoral College tie? The contest goes to the House of Representatives. But in keeping with America’s long tradition of placing checks on popular democracy, the people’s representatives don’t get to vote. Rather, each state’s Congressional delegation casts a ballot (unless it is equally divided, in which case the state basically abstains). At present, even though Democrats hold 34 more seats than the GOP, Republicans control 26 delegations to the Democrats 22.

But the Electoral College votes on January 6, after the new Congress is sworn in. And a number of delegations could swing. It’s would not be easy for Democrats to pick up the number they’d need while fighting to a draw in the Electoral College, but keep in mind that they could win the popular vote by a healthy margin in that scenario.

These are the states with delegations that could switch party control, or become tied, based on races that the Cook Political Report lists as either toss-ups or leaning towards one party (current control in parentheses): Alaska (R); Arizona (D); Florida (R); Maine (D); Michigan (D); Minnesota (D); Montana (R);  Nevada (D) and Pennsylvania (Tied).

Democrats would basically have to run the slate.

But, there’s another twist, thanks to our quirky, ridiculous system of choosing Presidents. Two states with small delegate hauls, Nebraska and Maine, have schemes that might split their votes between the statewide winner, who gets two delegates from each state, and the respective winners of their five combined Congressional Districts. And the key competitive districts are their respective 2nd CDs. Maine’s 2nd is held by Democratic freshman Jared Golden, Nebraska’s by three-term Republican Don Bacon and they’re both rated toss-ups by Cook.

Democrats should try to foil any skullduggery 2020 might be contemplating by working hard to win both of them.