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Electoral College tie could pair Romney with Biden

| Friday, Oct. 19, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

A White House run by Mitt Romney and Joe Biden?

Though far-fetched, technically it could happen that votes by the House and Senate to break an Electoral College tie would pair the Republican presidential nominee with the Democratic vice president.

For the first time in 135 years, the presidential race might depend upon Congress. With three weeks to go before the election, a 269-269 Electoral College tie is unlikely but possible, experts said. It could result, for example, if Romney wins all the swing states except Ohio, Wisconsin and New Hampshire.

In four U.S. elections, including 2000, the person who finished second in the popular vote won the presidency. The House decided two elections, including one with an Electoral College tie, and a bipartisan commission of House, Senate and Supreme Court members decided a third, according to the House historian.

“In a rather archaic tradition,” says Kyle Kondik, a tie throws the presidential decision to the House — which has a current GOP majority. Each of the 50 state delegations casts a single vote and the candidate who wins the most votes wins the White House, said Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia.

“Republicans appear to be heading to comfortably holding their majority” in the 113th Congress, said Jeff Brauer, a Keystone College political scientist, “which means the advantage would go to Mitt Romney.”

In a state-by-state analysis, Kondik reached the same conclusion.

“Republicans appear likely to control at least 29 of the 50 delegations,” he said, noting that because all states get one vote, no matter their size, “Wyoming's one House member has as much power as California's 53 members.”

Yet the analysts acknowledge some delegations, such as New Jersey's, likely would not come to consensus and would not cast a vote.

“Which is what makes the whole thing a litte screwy,” Brauer said.

To confuse the scenario, the Senate decides who becomes vice president.

“So if the Democrats continue to control the Senate, and Republicans control the House, and we have an Electoral tie, the results would be a President Mitt Romney and Vice President Joe Biden,” Brauer said.

Information provided by the House historian shows the lower chamber decided two presidential elections; an Electoral Commission the House and Senate created decided another.

The House decided the 1800 election, choosing Thomas Jefferson over Aaron Burr in February 1801. In 1824 election Andrew Jackson won the popular vote and Electoral College vote, with John Quincy Adams as runner-up; William Crawford was third and Henry Clay, a distant fourth. The House chose Adams. Jackson and his supporters later claimed that Adams and Clay struck a corrupt bargain when Adams named Clay his secretary of state.

The special commission decided the 1877 election between Democrat Samuel Tilden and Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, voting along party lines to award all contested ballots to Hayes. That secured him the presidency by a one vote.

Many experts think party control of the House and Senate are unlikely to change on Nov. 6, though many seats are up for grabs. Republicans won their House majority in 2010 by taking seats in states that include Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin. The party redrew congressional district lines after the 2010 census to protect its freshmen in Congress.

“As a result, it's possible that all four of those states will vote for President Obama but still send House delegations to Washington that have more Republicans than Democrats,” Kondik said.

Many experts think the Democratic Party is unlikely to lose control of the Senate, despite acknowledged close races such as that in Pennsylvania, where Republican Tom Smith is spending millions of his own money to unseat Democratic Sen. Bob Casey Jr.

Salena Zito is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at szito@tribweb.com.

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