Nightmare Scenario: Could the Electoral College Tie?

This is a rush transcript from "America's Election HQ," September 23, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

MARTHA MACCALLUM, HOST: Well, with just 42 more days until the elections, some are talking about, listen to this, the slight possibility that there could be an Electoral College tie. That's right. There are about a half dozen ways, actually, that this could really happen. One situation, according to The Washington Times is that each candidate wins the state in which they now lead in the polls. That seems like it could happen, right?

New Hampshire would have to go Republican. That scenario would make it 269 to 269 even. So with a tie, what actually would happen from there?

Here now to lay out some of the possibilities is Washington Times senior White House correspondent, Joseph Curl. Joe, good to see you here tonight.


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MACCALLUM: All right. So, you know, I'm sure a lot of people are shaking their heads, "Oh, it would never happen, but it could happen. And what is the setup for how we would deal with such a situation?

CURL: Well, there is a little bit of a dispute over whether the sitting Congress now or the newly-elected Congress would decide this matter. The 12th amendment says that it immediately goes to Capitol Hill and the House decides who the president is, the Senate decides who the vice president is.

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MACCALLUM: Which would be the current Congress?

CURL: Exactly.

MACCALLUM: In November?

CURL: Exactly. So if that would happen, each state gets a single vote based on its delegation. So if you have nine Democrats and six Republicans in the delegation, they would obviously vote Democratic and they would vote for Barack Obama. There are 27 that have a majority of Democrats, 21 a majority of Republicans. So the House would choose — the current House would choose Barack Obama as president.

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What gets really interesting is the Senate, where there is — it's split 50 to 48 with two independents. And those two independents could actually make that a tie ballgame putting Dick Cheney in place.

MACCALLUM: Because Joe Lieberman would come into play there as well.

CURL: Well, that's what's truly happening. If Joe Lieberman, who supports John McCain, were to vote with the Republicans and not the Democrats, he would make that a 50-50 tie. Dick Cheney would literally pick his own successor so you would have Obama in from for the House and Sarah Palin in from the Senate.

MACCALLUM: And wouldn't that be an interesting combination! I mean, how likely, you know, is this - and you said there is probably 12 ways that it could happen. That's a lot of ways.

CURL: Well, doing this article for The Washington Times, there was a professor at Ohio State who actually did some numbers for me. And he ran it taking in 10 battleground states, not just the way it is now. Ten battleground states with 1,024 different combinations and about 35 of them are a tie. So that's about 1.5 percent, which is a pretty high number, really, when you think about it.

MACCALLUM: So, we thought Florida was bad, right? You are looking at a scenario where you might have 12 Floridas.

CURL: You can have 50 Floridas. I talked to a constitutional scholar who said, "You know, we could literally have 50 lawsuits. I mean, if — the other thing that gets to be really weird is what if a state votes for Obama and its delegation is actually Republican? Do they go with the state voters? Do they go with their own delegation? Would there be lawsuits back and forth? I mean, you know, this could really drag on. And that would leave —

If it is deadlocked in the Senate, then, you know, that makes the House speaker president for however long -

MACCALLUM: You mean that Hillary Clinton rises up from the ashes and goes, "I will settle this!"

CURL: Then it's President Clinton all over again.

MACCALLUM: That's another scenario. Joe Curl, thank you very much.

CURL: Thanks a lot.

MACCALLUM: It is a fascinating scenario that a lot of news folks would enjoy endlessly, right?

CURL: That's right.

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