Now that the findings of the 2010 Census have been released, and various congressional seats are set to be shuffled around to new homes across the country, it's time to take a look at one of the most horrible flaws of the Electoral College system: You can have a tie. It happened before, in 1800, and it can happen again. There's nothing particularly special about 2012 a tie is a possibility in every presidential election. But just imagine the chaos if it actually happened. How would America react if the next president is selected by the House of Representatives, and the vice-president by the Senate, as mandated by the Constitution? It would make the Florida recount in 2000 look like an actual tea party, the dainty kind with crumpets and fine tableware. It is a very slim, but very real and very terrifying, possibility.
So, with the help of the awesome interactive electoral map at 270towin.com, let's take a look at sixteen plausible ways it could go down. The obvious caveats apply, of course: It's really far out from the election, and anything a big terrorist attack, for example could change everything; much depends on how the economy is doing and who the Republican nominee is, etc. If you can think of any scenarios we missed, let us know in the comments.
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This is the nightmare scenario, one that seems all too possible. Give Obama the states he won in 2008, minus Ohio, Florida, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, and Indiana. Ohio, Florida, and New Hampshire are perennial swing states, and New Hampshire becomes especially vulnerable if Mitt Romney is the nominee, as he lives there and used to be a governor next door. Virginia, North Carolina, and Indiana have been solid red states except for 2008, and Obama may find his success there hard to repeat. (Note: Nebraska splits its electoral votes — in 2008 Obama won a single electoral vote from Nebraska by essentially winning Omaha.)
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Here Obama retains Virginia but loses New Hampshire, Nevada, and Iowa.
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The closest state in the 2008 presidential race? Missouri. John McCain eked out a victory there by a mere 3,632 votes out of over 2.9 million cast. So it's definitely in play for Obama in 2012. If he wins Missouri but loses New Hampshire and Colorado, another very close state, we'll have a tie.
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Guess what happens if Obama loses Nevada, New Mexico, and Iowa but keeps Virginia. Say it with me: tie.
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New Mexico is half Hispanic at this point, a demographic firmly in Obama's corner and even more so with the often antagonistic Republican position on immigration, so we're pretty sure New Mexico will go Obama's way again. Still, George W. Bush won there in 2004, and Al Gore won by less than 400 votes in 2000, so it's a close state. In this scenario, Obama loses New Mexico and Colorado, but captures Missouri.
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You've heard of how blue-collar whites are abandoning Obama. Could Pennsylvania, which has gone to the Democratic candidate in the past five elections, finally turn red? Maybe! If it does, and Obama also loses Iowa and Nevada, but keeps Florida, it's a tie.
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Now we're getting into "Mitt Romney only" territory. A recent poll showed that Massachusetts voters, despite Romney's tenure as governor there, and last year's Scott Brown surprise, still favor Obama over Romney by nine points. But that's still a hell of a lot tighter than the 25 percent margin of victory the state gave Obama in 2008, so let's assume that Massachusetts is at least in play. If Massachusetts goes to Romney, then New Hampshire, which is much more of a swing state, would almost certainly do the same. If that happens, it creates a new slew of tie scenarios, like this one, in which Obama keeps Ohio but loses Nevada.
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Or this one, in which he keeps Ohio but loses Iowa.
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Michigan is pretty reliably blue, but Romney has deep roots in the state. He grew up there, and his father was governor in the sixties. Also, the economy there is in bad shape, with the second-worst unemployment rate in the country. So even though Obama basically saved the auto industry from collapse, the state could be in play if Romney gets the GOP nomination. In fact, a poll this month showed Obama ahead of Romney by just 4 percent, almost within the margin of error. Take Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Michigan away from Obama's column, but let him keep North Carolina and Virginia, and that's a tie.
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Here's yet another Romney-based tie scenario.
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And the same thing, but Obama loses Iowa instead of Nevada.
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It seems pretty unlikely that Romney would win just Massachusetts and not New Hampshire, but stranger things have happened. Like that story about Edwin Booth, the brother of John Wilkes Booth, saving the life of Abraham Lincoln's son by total coincidence. Crazy. If that can happen, then Romney can take Massachusetts and Nevada, a state with a large Mormon population and the worst unemployment in the country, away from Obama.
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And here's the same thing but with Obama losing New Mexico and one Nebraska vote instead of Nevada.
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... And with Obama losing Iowa.
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Here Obama loses Pennsylvania and Colorado, but keeps North Carolina.
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In this final scenario, Obama would have to lose two reliably blue states in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, and win two usually reliably red states in Virginia and North Carolina. You never know.