What Happens if There Is a Tie in the Electoral College?

Joint Session of Congress Tallies Electoral Votes. Getty Images

The Members of the Electoral College are chosen by each state and the District of Columbia on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November in presidential election years. Each political party nominates its own candidates for the position of presidential elector.

The 538 members of the Electoral College cast their votes for President and Vice President in meetings held in the 50 state capitals and the District of Columbia in mid-December of presidential election years. If all 538 electors are appointed, 270 electoral votes (i.e., a majority of 538 members of the Electoral College) are required to elect the President and the Vice President.

Question: What happens if there is a tie in the electoral college?

Since there are 538 electoral votes, it is feasibly possible for the presidential electoral vote to end in a 269-269 tie. An electoral tie has not happened since the adoption of the US Constitution in 1789. However, the 12th amendment to the US Constitution addresses what happens if there is a tie in electoral votes.

Answer: According to the 12th Amendment, if there is a tie, the new president would be decided by the House of Representatives. Each state is only given one vote, no matter how many representatives it has. The winner will be the one who wins 26 states. The House has until March 4th to decide on the president.

On the other hand, the Senate would decide on the new Vice President. Each Senator would get one vote, and the winner would be the one who received 51 votes.

There have been suggested amendments to fix the Electoral College: The American public overwhelmingly favors direct election of the president.  Gallup surveys from the 1940s found over half of those who knew what the electoral college was thought it should not be continued. Since 1967, majorities in Gallup polls have supported an amendment abolishing the electoral college, with peak support at 80% in 1968.

Suggestions have included an amendment with three provisions: requiring every state to award electoral votes based on a popular vote in that state or the nation as a whole; replacing human electors with votes to be cast automatically according to the state's rules; and awarding the presidency to the national popular vote winner if no candidate wins an Electoral College majority.

According to the ROPER POLL website, 

"Polarization on this [Electoral College] issue became significant after the events of the 2000 election...Enthusiasm for the popular vote at the time was moderate among Democrats, but skyrocketed after Gore won the popular vote while losing the electoral college."

Adoption of the National Popular Vote plan: Advocates of a national popular vote for president are focusing their reform efforts on a  proposal that has been steadily advancing in state legislatures: the National Popular Vote plan for president.

The National Popular Vote plan is an interstate agreement that relies on states' constitutional powers to allocate electoral votes and to enter into binding interstate compacts. This plan guarantees election of the presidential candidate who wins the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Participating states will award all their electoral votes as a block to the winner of the national popular vote once the law is passed in states holding a majority of the nation's electoral votes.

As of today, it has been enacted in states representing nearly half of the 270 electoral votes necessary to trigger the agreement in 2016.

Learn more about the electoral college:

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Kelly, Melissa. "What Happens if There Is a Tie in the Electoral College?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/what-happens-with-tie-electoral-college-6730. Kelly, Melissa. (2020, August 26). What Happens if There Is a Tie in the Electoral College? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-happens-with-tie-electoral-college-6730 Kelly, Melissa. "What Happens if There Is a Tie in the Electoral College?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-happens-with-tie-electoral-college-6730 (accessed April 1, 2023).