WASHINGTON Oct 5 What if it's a tie?
A handful of battleground states are likely to determine
the Nov. 4 U.S. presidential election and it's possible that
Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama could split
them in a manner that leaves each just short of victory.
If that happens, the Democratic-controlled House of
Representatives would pick the president but it's unclear
whether Democrats would have enough votes to send Obama to the
The House last decided an election in 1824. But the legal
skirmishing and partisan rancor would probably resemble a more
recent election -- the 2000 vote in which Republican George W.
Bush narrowly defeated Democrat Al Gore after a disputed
Florida vote count and legal battle.
"This would be the seamy side of democracy, the lobbying
and the money would be so intense," said American University
history professor Allan Lichtman.
In the United States, presidential elections are determined
on a state-by-state basis rather than a nationwide popular
vote. Each state, along with the District of Columbia, is
allotted a number of votes in the Electoral College that
correspond to the number of representatives it has in Congress.
To become president, a candidate must win at least 270
If McCain wins Virginia, New Hampshire, Florida and Ohio
but loses Pennsylvania, Colorado, New Mexico and Iowa to Obama,
both candidates could end up with 269 electoral votes.
Other, less likely scenarios -- McCain losing Virginia and
New Hampshire but winning Michigan, for example -- also could
result in a tie.
Under the U.S. Constitution, the House would then decide
the election when it meets in January, with each state getting
one vote -- regardless of its size -- if the chamber has to
break a tie.
Democrats, who control the 435-seat House, outnumber
Republicans in 27 state congressional delegations and could see
that number rise in the November elections.
Republicans have a majority in 21 state delegations. Two
states have an equal number of Republican and Democratic
Some members could feel pressure to vote for the other
party's candidate if he carried their state or district or if
he won a clear margin of the national popular vote, said
Northwestern University law professor Robert Bennett.
They would also be under extraordinary pressure from party
leaders to stick together.
"There would be bargaining in that context and lots of room
for rancor and bitterness. It would be a mess," Bennett said.
The dispute probably would not be confined to Congress.
"Do you believe for one moment that this won't end up in
the courts?" Lichtman said.
Other possible scenarios, according to Bennett:
* Before the House meets, the Obama and McCain campaigns
could try to convince the Electoral College voters who actually
cast each state's electoral votes to switch their support. This
has happened occasionally in past elections but has never
affected the outcome of an election. Electors in roughly half
of the states are bound by law to honor the popular vote.
* While the House picks a president, the Senate picks the
vice president in the event of a tie. The Democratic-controlled
chamber could pick Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe
Biden even if McCain wins the House vote.
* The newly minted vice president could become acting
president if the House doesn't reach a resolution by the time
President George W. Bush leaves the White House on Jan. 20.
* House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would become acting president
if neither chamber could settle on a president or vice
president but she would have to resign her post.
(Editing by David Alexander)