There’s been a lot of loose talk lately about the possibility of a 269-269 Electoral College tie. Stories about this tend to be peppered with hyperbole, running the gamut from “doomsday” to “nightmare” to “political pundits’ dream.”

How likely is a tie?

While not likely—a 3.2% probability, according to the redoubtable Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight.com—several scenarios are plausible. Silver’s models project the most likely 269-269 combo being where “Obama wins the Kerry states plus Iowa, New Mexico and Colorado, but loses New Hampshire.” But keep in mind, that’s only the most likely tie within that 3.2% probability of a tie.

What happens in case of a tie?

If the electors deadlock, the new president is elected by the members of the incoming House of Representatives, with each state casting a single vote.

This means, for example, that the entire California House delegation would meet and decide amongst themselves whether to throw California’s vote to Obama or McCain. If California’s delegation consists of a majority of Democrats, California’s vote would go to Obama. Across the 50 states, this would currently favor the Democrats, who control the majority of state delegations.

The vice president is elected by the new Senate, one vote per senator.

Now, things will undoubtedly get curiouser and curiouser between today and November 4. But as it stands the Democrats appear likely to expand their majorities in both houses of Congress. If that comes to fruition, an Electoral College tie would result in an Obama-Biden victory in Congress.

(The Washington Times suggests that the outgoing, not the incoming, Congress might in fact make the decision—possibly resulting in an Obama-Palin administration. I’m no constitutional lawyer, but this is clearly wrong. The 20th Amendment establishes January 3 as the Congressional swearing-in date. Statute sets January 6 as the date for the joint session of Congress in which the Electoral College votes are opened and counted. The results are not officially registered or acted upon until after the new Congress has been seated.)

Other thoughts

One thing that hasn’t been much discussed is how a tie would affect the job the electors have to do. I’m interested in this aspect as a candidate for elector.

I imagine there would be extreme pressure on some electors to switch their votes. For example, consider a McCain elector from an overwhelmingly Obama-voting district in Texas (yes, I’m sure there will be several). This person might face intense public pressure to vote the way the people in their district voted, even if the vast overall majority of Texans voted for McCain.

Now, I can’t see this affecting the votes of many electors, since their pledges are based on the statewide popular vote. For my part, I wouldn’t go back on my Obama-Biden pledge for Dr. Evil’s One. Hundred. Billion. Dollars.

But in a very close or tied Electoral College, I guarantee that state parties will work round the clock to double-check with each elector, make sure everyone is logistically set to attend the all-important vote on December 15, and make back-up transportation available. (That may sound like overkill, but one elector’s flat tire on December 15 could change history.)

Talk about a targeted get-out-the-vote universe!

Celebrating the Constitution

Move over, 4th of July: Today is Constitution Day. Our highest law was signed on this date, September 17, 1787.

The brainchild of Sen. Robert Byrd, Constitution Day became a federal holiday (but not the kind that comes with a day off) in 2005. All educational institutions receiving federal funding are required to have some sort of program about the Constitution today.

On this day, let’s keep in mind that the Constitution protects us only to the extent that we defend it.

I thought you meant President of the Glee Club

I suggested in my last post that only actual candidates should appear on the ballot. I’m not sayin’ I told ya so—I’m just sayin’:

(Ron) Paul, in a letter to the secretary of state, said his name was nominated by the Constitution Party of Montana without his permission.

The secretary of state’s office said there does not appear to be a provision to remove Paul’s name at this point. At least some counties have started printing ballots, officials said.

[from the Flathead Beacon]

Rep. Paul had been reported to have passively accepted the filing of electors pledged in his name. But in what is shaping up to be a very tight Electoral College race, the splitting of the Republican vote in Montana could be a serious concern for John McCain.

After all, Paul has significant support there, having defeated Sen. McCain in the Montana caucuses (albeit with few people voting). And that red state has been trending blue in federal and state elections—now having two Democratic senators, a Democratic governor, and a Democratic State Senate.

Although Ron Paul isn’t supporting John McCain, perhaps he decided (or was persuaded) against nadering him outright.

(h/t Ballot Access News)

Ron Paul makes ballot in MT, LA

Word is that Ron Paul has qualified for the ballot in Montana and Louisiana in the last few days.

Why do I mention Rep. Paul’s ballot status, and not those of Nader, McKinney, and Barr? Because Paul’s case exposes an odd quirk of the system; After all, Ron Paul is no longer even running for president and has urged voters to support other third-party candidates.

Reports say that the Constitution Party in Montana and the Taxpayers Party in Louisiana independently filed elector slates pledged to Paul. According to Ballot Access News, Ron Paul himself doesn’t object as long as he can “remain passive and silent” and doesn’t have to file a statement of candidacy.

Now, I don’t support onerous barriers to third-party access. But would it be unreasonable to require that each candidate listed on the ballot be a candidate?

One day in Delaware

America.gov has a quick read about Timothy Willard, a 2004 Kerry elector from Delaware. The article exemplifies the obscurity of the Electoral College by picturing candidates Bush and Kerry—but not the elector who’s the very subject of the piece!

Anyway, a few nice tidbits for us process geeks:

  • The state Democratic Party chair nominated the three electors—one from each of Delaware’s three counties.
  • Those electors selected a chair from amongst themselves, the first I’ve heard of such a thing. (In my state, the law doesn’t mention an elector chair, but seems to give the facilitator role to the governor.)
  • Delaware has a “faithless elector” law requiring electors to vote for their party’s ticket.

Read the full story here at America.gov.

Becoming an elector (D-Minnesota)

How can I serve on the Electoral College? A simple question, with a complicated answer.

You see, each state has its own rules, and parties may have different procedures even within the same state. I have direct experience only with the Democrats’ process in my fair state.

So this post is naturally about becoming a Democratic elector in Minnesota. This will be the first in a series covering various states and parties.

Note: In many if not most states—including Minnesota—it’s too late to apply for elector this year, at least as a Democrat or Republican. For the definitive word, contact the state office for your party of choice. And hey, we’d love to know what you find out!

Minnesota law states: “Presidential electors for the major political parties of this state shall be nominated by delegate conventions called and held under the supervision of the respective state central committees of the parties of this state” (Minnesota Statutes 208.03).

On the Democratic side, we implement this by picking one elector candidate at each of our eight congressional district conventions (which were held this year in April and May) and two at the state convention (June), for a total of 10. We also nominate an equal number of elector alternates.

In order to run for elector at the district level, you first have to fill out a screening questionnaire. There, you provide your contact info, outline your past experience, expound on why you’re running, float ideas for the position, and so on. This might run about 2-4 pages.

Next, you meet with a nominations committee, made up of maybe 20 delegates. Their purpose is to pre-screen candidates for district chair (my old job), other party officer positions, various committee slots, and presidential elector. You give a brief presentation about yourself, then they ask you some questions about the position, your questionnaire, and so forth. It’s kind of like a short job interview with a large hiring committee.

At or shortly before the convention, the committee announces its recommendations for each position. Hopefully you make the cut.

Finally, it’s the big show: the district convention, consisting of about 200 state delegates. Some of the main items of business here are the endorsement of a candidate for U.S. Congress and the election of National Convention delegates. When the time for the elector vote comes, the nominations committee presents your name to the convention.

At this point, other people can be nominated out of the blue. If no one else runs, there’s usually an instant voice vote to approve you. If a contest exists, an election process is held, including short speeches, a Q&A period, and a paper ballot.

I did it at the district level (shout-out to CD5!) but if that doesn’t work out for you, you have the option of throwing in at the state convention. The process is basically the same there, but larger by an order of magnitude, with about 1400 delegates to contend with.

Of course, even after making it through all of the above, you ultimately become an elector only if your party’s presidential ticket wins statewide in November.

In a future post, I’ll cover the attributes and qualifications the delegates tend to look for in elector candidates.

Note: I do welcome feedback from those of you in other states and other parties, particularly if you’ve run for elector yourself. I especially want to publicize states where people can still file for elector—if any are left!

It’s official (part II)

Tonight, just a few miles from where I’m writing, the Republican Party nominates John McCain and Sarah Palin for president and vice president.

You’ll never meet a prouder Democrat than me. But in a blog about the Electoral College, I’d be remiss in not recognizing this as one of the formal milestones of the presidential election process. Although it’s becoming hard to remember a time before this campaign, it technically starts tomorrow.