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RealClearPolitics HorseRaceBlog

By Jay Cost

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Nebraska and Maine?

I noted with interest stories today discussing McCain and Obama opening up campaign offices in some far-flung places: McCain in Bangor, Maine and Obama in Omaha, Nebraska. Maine and Nebraska do not have reputations as swing states, so what the heck are these guys up to?

Part of it is to head off the possibility of something like this occuring:


What you see here is a 269-269 tie in the Electoral College. So also is this:

269-269 B.jpg

What happens when there is such a tie? We go to Amendment 12, which states:

The person having the greatest Number of [Electoral College] votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice.

That's right, the House of Representatives - which acquitted itself so beautifully over the last week! - gets to make the choice, but with a twist. Each state gets one vote. That makes things a little dicey, for both campaigns.

For McCain, the problem is obvious: the Democrats control the Congress. Not only that, but they currently control 27 of the 50 state caucuses. The GOP controls 21 and 2 are split.

But Obama has a problem here, too. In this scenario, McCain will have won more states, which means that to win, Obama will have to convince some Democrats to vote against their states. A few unfortunate souls would probably have to vote against their own districts. In 2004 George W. Bush won 255 congressional districts to Kerry's 180. A 269-269 tie like this implies that McCain will probably have won more districts than Obama, which would complicate matters for the Democrat.

Why is it that Maine and Nebraska are relevant to this scenario? Most states allocate electors on a winner-take-all basis. Maine and Nebraska do, too - but they also dole out electors depending upon who won which congressional districts. If McCain were to win Maine's second district, he'd get an elector. If Obama were to win Nebraska's third (Correction: second), he'd get an elector. That could make the difference.

That would be especially helpful because here's how the Vice-President is selected.

The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice.

Again, the same tension would exist. Biden would have more Democrats. Palin would have more states.

Note that the House picks the President, the Senate picks the Veep. That means it's possible to see a split in the executive branch - one party wins the top job, another wins the second job!

So, a spare elector from Maine or Nebraska could be quite useful.

-Jay Cost