An Electoral College Tie could cause Civil Unrest

In this post, I’m not going to argue for or against any particular candidate. Instead, I’m going to ask a simple question. What would happen if, in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, or any future Presidential election, no candidate reaches 270 electoral votes?

As you may already know, to win the Presidency, one must obtain 270 or more of the electoral college votes available State by State (270 to win). For example, Alaska has 3 electoral votes available to win, and California has 55. Each State gets one vote for each of its two senators, and one for each of its representatives — though the aforementioned members of Congress have no special say in who is elected — unless no one obtains 270. The District of Columbia also gets 3 electors. So there are a total of 538 electoral college votes. Half of 538 is 269, so 270 electoral college votes are needed to win. If each candidate gets 269, the election is tied.

Now two crazy things happen in the case of a tie.

First crazy thing: electors are not generally bound to their candidate. When the electoral college meets, an elector can jump ship and vote for the other candidate, turning a tie into a win. Yes, it’s legal, in most States. The States determine the rules for their electors.

In such a case, the country could erupt in civil disorder. For no matter which side wins, the losing side will consider the win to be very unfair, even though it is apparently legal and constitutional. Protests would be inevitable, and violence at protests would be likely. Rioting and looting is a real possibility.

Second crazy thing: if the tie holds when the college meets and votes, the House decides who becomes President, from the top 3 vote getters, and the House votes by State — one vote only per State. So suddenly Alaska and California each have one vote, instead of 3 versus 55. Given the current make-up of the House, the conservative States would have the most votes, and so it is likely that the Republican would be President.

Then the Senate chooses the Vice-President from the top two vote getters. Currently, the Republicans control the Senate, so they would choose a Republican VP. But in some years, it would be possible to have a Democratic VP with a Republican President, or vice versa.

Again, this method of choosing the President and VP will likely be perceived as very unfair, leading to protests and violence.

Third crazy thing: did I mention there’s a third, even more crazy possibility? If a third party candidate captures some electoral college votes, and no candidate reaches 270 votes, the candidate with the most votes still does not win. If one candidate gets 269 votes, and the other two candidates get 135 and 134 votes, the 269 candidate does not win. 270 is needed for an outright win. Otherwise, the House decides which candidate becomes President from the top THREE vote getters. That means that a third party candidate can win the Presidency, in theory, with only one electoral college vote. It’s highly unlikely, but constitutional.

Could a third party candidate win some electoral college votes this year? Ever heard of Evan McMullin? He’s a third party candidate, and also a Mormon. He is polling ahead of Hillary Clinton in Utah, a State with millions of Mormons. And one October 2016 poll had him leading both Trump and Clinton. If he wins Utah, he gets 6 votes, making it all the more possible that no candidate will reach 270.

So, in theory, he could become president. In practice, the House is not going to choose him over Trump, if no candidate reaches 270. But one day, it could happen that the third vote getter becomes the President.

So all three scenarios seem rather unfair, and could result in protests and violence. The problem would be irreparable, as the constitution is clear in these matters. So civil unrest could erupt.

– Thoreau

2 Responses to An Electoral College Tie could cause Civil Unrest

  1. It seems the odds of a tie are low but the 3rd party thing could happen. We’ve had a few elections where a 3rd party candidate got votes.

  2. This was a very clear explanation. Many people have trouble understanding the voting system.
    In this particular election, and the fascist, confronting, bullying nature of the Republican nominee, the potential for violence is high. Actual violence has already occurred with the burning of African American Churches and threatening graffiti.
    Violence negatively affects the health of victims as well as those who witness violence. It acts like an epidemic disease. The more violence one is witness to, or lives in fear of, increases mental trauma from exposure and results in increased violent behavior (, 2016).
    Civil unrest is often how our country values are corrected and improved. Unrest that is not focused, specific and peaceful will not improve our country.
    Really appreciate this site and variability of subjects.