Weekend Open Thread: States’ Leanings as the Conventions Close Generates a Surprising Electoral College Result

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Maybe someone else has already noticed and written about this recently — but if so I haven’t seen it.  And it’s disturbing.  If you don’t want to wade through the introduction, you can get to the punch by skipping down to the map below.

It’s long been understood that the Electoral College vote could end up without any candidate having a majority of the 538 votes, and people have written about that.  Sometimes this is called an “electoral college tie” — but that’s not strictly true.  All that’s necessary is for no one to reach 270 votes out of the 538.  This could happen because of a 269-269 tie — or it could happen because a third candidate picks up enough electoral voters to block either of the other candidates from a majority (as would be the case if Gary Johnson took Maine and left a 269-265, 268-266, or 267-267 split between Trump and Clinton), or it happen due to a “faithless elector.”

Yes, if either Trump or Clinton won 270-268 — it would be possible for a single elector in that majority to — breaking the law, perhaps, but nevertheless — cast their vote for a third party ticket, or even for Michelle Obama or Gary Johnson.  And then — if Congress or the courts didn’t find a way to squash it — that person would become just as eligible to be selected by the House of Representatives, with each state delegation getting one vote (so that Wyoming gets the same amount of votes as California and a tied state delegation gets no vote at all) as the two major party candidates who had almost but not quite 270.  (Their running mate could not be selected; the Senate chooses between only the top two vote-getters as Vice-President.)  Note that the story linked to up above is incorrect: it doesn’t matter whether the House of Representatives goes overwhelmingly Democratic this year or not, so long as the Republicans hold either a majority of the 26 state delegations — or perhaps even simply a majority of those able to cast a vote (i.e., not tied or entirely vacant.)  Congress would decide on that rule.

This is a perennial (well. perennially a quadrennial) story; I even wrote about it here myself at the beginning of this month to explain why Bernie wouldn’t run as a third party candidate.  (It would guarantee a Trump victory if he did well enough to hold both candidates below 270 electoral votes, essentially.  And in those stories, writers often come up with plausible-seeming scenarios where, if the chips fell just right, we could get an electoral vote tie.

Well, guess what?  Or, don’t guess: just look at the following map, adapted from the predictions at Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight.com.

The direction in which each state leaned as of the closing day of the 2016 Democratic convention. Light pink and blue indicate likely swing states.

The direction in which each state leaned as of the closing day of the 2016 Democratic convention. Light pink and blue indicate likely swing states.

Each state’s number of electoral votes is highlighted.  The bright blue states are considered safe for Clinton; the bright reddish ones are considered safe for Trump.  (I don’t actually believe that Minnesota, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Oregon or Maine — at least it’s second district, which gets its own single electoral vote — are truly “safe” for Clinton, and I’m not sure what if anything is actually “safe” for Trump, who could crash through a guard rail at any time.  But his “safe states” currently do seem safer.)  The light blue states (Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Colorado) are “Clinton-held” swing states; the pink states (Nevada, Arizona, Iowa, Ohio, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Florida) are “Trump-held” swing states.

These projections are taken from Nate Silver’s site as of yesterday.  At that point, every state was leaning in the same direction in each of the three ways that Silver calculates his predictions.  These three ways are: (1) the “now-cast” of where the vote would be expected to go if the election were held today; (2) the “polls-only” model, which simply aggregates the polls for each state; and (3) the “polls-plus” model, which takes into account not only polls but the state of the economy, presidential popularity, and perhaps a little more.  Trump does best in the “now-cast” (#1) and Clinton best in the “polls plus” model (#3), with Clinton prevailing in the “polls only” model (#2).  But the states fundamental direction stays the same in each model: it’s just that in the “now-cast” Clinton safe states turn into swing states and the swing states get even more swingy, and in the “polls-plus” safe Trump states become swingy and his swing-states get closer to flipping.  (In today’s “polls-plus” model, for example, Nevada, Iowa, and New Hampshire switched from pink to blue.  Don’t get used to it; the latter two margins are each half a percent.)

So what’s so interesting?  Well, if things were stay the same as on July 28 within a fairly broad range of conditions — which probably won’t happen, but it’s the best estimate for each state as of yesterday, and it’s still true for models #1 and #2 — then this is what the final map would look like.  Add up all of the electoral votes of the red and pink states.  And then add up all of the electoral votes for the blue and light-blue states.

They both add up to 269.  As of July 28, the best estimate on a state by state basis, not including the correlations of effects in the various races that turn the path of the election, is an Electoral Vote tie.

This is your Weekend Open Thread.  Pick yourself up off the floor and talk about that, or anything else you’d like, within reasonable bounds of decorum and discretion.


About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)