Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The odds that Tuesday’s presidential election will end in an electoral tie have doubled as the number of swing states has been cut in half, election analysts and mathematicians say.

Two professors at Youngstown State University in Ohio conducted a study during the summer using 17 swing states and found 1,969 tie scenarios out of a possible 131,072 combinations — or 1.5 percent.

Now, the remaining swing states of Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico and New Hampshire present four tie scenarios out of a possible 128 combinations — or 3.1 percent.

“Anything could happen,” said Paul Sracic, a political science professor at the university who worked with Nathan Ritchey, chairman of the department of mathematics and statistics, to come up with the scenario. “The odds for a tie are better.”

For example: Americans could wake up Wednesday to find that President Bush has won the same 30 states he won in 2000 except for Colorado. The election will have ended in a 269-269 tie in the Electoral College, throwing the outcome to Congress, which could pick a president from one party and a vice president from another.

The latest polls raise a real possibility for a tie: If Sen. John Kerry wins Ohio, in which he leads, and Mr. Bush takes Wisconsin, where he leads, the president would need just one vote from Maine, which distributes its electoral votes based on its congressional districts, not the winner-take-all formula used in 48 states. Outcome: Tie.

Colorado is considering moving to this system, and its voters will decide Tuesday on a proposal to do so. If the initiative passes, the state’s nine electoral votes will be split.

Mr. Bush defeated Al Gore with an electoral count of 271-267, one more than needed. Because of redistricting, Mr. Bush’s 30 states are now worth 278 electoral votes and Mr. Gore’s 20 states plus the District are worth 260, meaning that any combination of nine electoral votes that move from the Republican to the Democrat will produce a tie.

The three votes given to the District — added to 435 for each congressional district and 100 for each state’s senators — create an even number in the Electoral College: 538. Because the U.S. Constitution mandates that the president win the “majority” of the electoral votes, not a plurality, the winner needs 270 electoral votes.

In the case of a tie, Congress would turn to the 12th Amendment of the Constitution, which requires the newly elected House of Representatives to “immediately” pick the president from among the top three finishers. Each state’s House delegation has one vote, but this time, the District doesn’t get a vote.

A state’s single vote is determined by a separate caucus of its House delegation. This means that Georgia, for instance, which has 13 congressional members — eight Republicans and five Democrats — presumably would cast a vote for Mr. Bush.

Although the makeup of the House could change Tuesday, it is nearly inconceivable that Republicans would lose the edge they now enjoy: 30 states have a majority of Republicans, 16 have a Democratic majority, and four states are evenly divided. Those states might not agree on a vote and lose their vote, and states need not vote the way their residents did in the election.

Under a tie scenario, Mr. Bush almost certainly would remain president. But who would be named vice president is up in the air.

The new Senate would pick the vice president in case of a tie, and the narrow margin there now — 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats and an independent who usually votes with Democrats — means power could shift easily. If Democrats win the majority in the chamber, they could install Sen. John Edwards, which would be the first time since 1796 that the president and vice president would be from different parties.

Because the Senate votes individually, not by state as does the House, a vice president is chosen only with 51 votes. That spawns another dicey question: What happens in case of a tie? Would the Senate’s presiding officer break the tie — even though that means Vice President Dick Cheney, as president of the Senate, casts a vote for himself to keep the job?

“This is what law professors and political professors argue about. My position is that Dick Cheney gets to break the tie and name himself vice president,” Mr. Sracic said. “But the Constitution isn’t entirely clear.”

Some say the vice president can vote to break ties, but the 12th Amendment says only senators can vote when choosing the vice president after a tied election.

“So this will go to court, and it’ll start all over again,” the professor said with a laugh.

He also laid out one scenario that could “make people really angry.”

“What if Senator Kerry wins the popular vote and the House names George W. Bush president? This is probably worst possible scenario. I’m really afraid of what would happen in the streets,” Mr. Sracic said.

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