How Obama and Romney Could Tie in the Electoral College: ‘Just Explain It’

Kate Santichen
The Ticket

Every four years, Americans get a refresher course in civics. We're reminded we don't elect the president or vice president directly. Instead, our votes elect 'electors' who make up the Electoral College. They cast votes for the candidates on our behalf.

Each state's number of electors is determined by adding its number of senators to its number of representatives. Every state has two senators, and the number of representatives varies based on population. So every state is not equal. For instance, California has two senators plus 53 representatives, for a total of 55 electoral votes. Although Washington, D.C., doesn't have congressional representation, the district is granted three electoral votes. There are 538 electoral votes up for grabs. A candidate needs 50 percent plus one or 270 electoral votes to win the presidency.

Nearly all states are 'winner take all.' This means the candidate with the most votes receives all the state's electoral votes. For example, in 2008, Barack Obama got more votes than senator John McCain in New York. Obama won all 31 of New York's electoral votes, but McCain didn't get any credit for the 2.5 million votes he received.

Maine and Nebraska are the only exceptions to the winner take all system. These states can split their electoral votes, giving some to one candidate and the rest to another. McCain received a majority of the votes in Nebraska in 2008, and he won four out of five possible electoral votes. The remaining vote went to Obama for winning the state's second congressional district, which encompasses the Omaha metro area. The Obama campaign referred it to as 'Obamaha.'

Although the election is still weeks away, political analysts already have an idea of how Obama and Romney stack up in the Electoral College battle. Based on states that are either solidly behind or leaning toward either candidate, the president currently leads, 237 to 191, leaving 110 votes in nine critical swing states up for grabs. The nine states are New Hampshire, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Iowa, Colorado, Wisconsin and Nevada. These battleground states are where the candidates will spend the majority of their time and money until election day.

If president Obama can sweep Florida's 29 votes and also hang on to New Hampshire's four electoral votes, he can lose the remaining seven battleground states, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Iowa, Colorado, Wisconsin and Nevada, and still win a second term. In another scenario, he could lose the four biggest swing states, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Virginia, and still reach 270 by winning the five smaller ones, Colorado, Nevada, New Hampshire, Iowa and Wisconsin.

But could Romney and Obama tie? If Romney manages to swing just seven states from blue to red, Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida, plus that single vote in Nebraska Obama won in 2008, he could tie the Electoral College count, 269 to 269.  In that situation, the newly-elected House of Representatives selects the president, with each state casting a single vote. The House is expected to have more state delegations with Republican majorities than Democratic ones, likely electing Mitt Romney as the next president in the event of an Electoral College tie.

Do you think the Electoral College is out dated, or should the U.S. keep it?