There is a very real chance that this election could be razor thin. Trump won in 2016 by a total of 78,000 votes spread across three states. This margin was sufficient to give him a very comfortable Electoral College win. Beneath those numbers though, we have to acknowledge just how close we were to having President Hillary Clinton.
How easy or difficult would it be to get a 269-269 tie? Let’s set some very reasonable parameters, so this is a realistic exercise and not a mathematical one. If the election is close, we can assume that no state will shift dramatically from 2016 to 2020. Setting a maximum differential of 4%, it puts 11 contests in play (electoral votes in parentheses): Michigan (16), New Hampshire (4), Pennsylvania (20), Wisconsin (10), Florida (29), Minnesota (10), Nebraska-CD2 (1), Nevada (6), Maine At-Large (2), Arizona (11) and North Carolina (15). The total without any of these states is Biden 226 and Trump 204. Trump needs 66 electoral votes from the 11 states/districts above to win the election, assuming no other state moves more than 4%.
Looking at the electoral map, there are a multitude of scenarios where the election could end in a 269-269 tie. I came up with 16 distinct scenarios and I am sure that missed some combinations. I didn’t include any scenarios where Trump loses AZ and wins NV, as I don’t see that as likely. These are realistic scenarios that don’t take much imagination to create. Starting from the 2016 map and adding/subtracting from Trump’s 2016 wins, these scenarios will add or remove states and districts to show paths to a tie.
Scenario 1: Lose PA (20), MI (16) and NE-2 (1)
Scenario 2: Lose PA (20), MI (16) and AZ (11); Gain MN (10)
Scenario 3: Lose PA (20), MI (16) and NC (15); Gain MN (10) and NH (4)
Scenario 4: Lose PA (20), WI (10) and NC (15); Gain NV (6) and ME-AL (2)
Scenario 5: Lose PA (20), MI (16), WI (10) and NE-2 (1); Gain MN (10)
Scenario 6: Lose PA (20), MI (16) WI (10) and NE-2 (1); Gain NV (6) and NH (4)
Scenario 7: Lose PA (20), AZ (11) and WI (10); Gain NH (4)
Scenario 8: Lose MI (16), WI (10) and AZ (11)
Scenario 9: Lose MI (16), WI (10) and NC (15); Gain NH (4)
Scenario 10: Lose FL (29) and WI (10); Gain ME-AL (2)
Scenario 11: Lose FL (29), AZ (11) and NE-2 (1); Gain NH (4)
Scenario 12: Lose FL (29), AZ (11), WI (10) and NE2 (1); Gain NH (4) and MN (10)
Scenario 13: Lose FL (29), NC (15) and NE-2 (1); Gain NV (6) and ME-AL (2)
Scenario 14: Lose FL (29), NC (15), WI (10) and NE-2 (1); Gain NV (6), MN (10) and ME-AL (2)
Scenario 15: Lose FL (29) and MI (16); Gain NV (6) and ME-AL (2)
Scenario 16: Lose FL (29), WI (10) and MI (16); Gain NV (6), MN (10) and ME-AL (2)
If there is a tie, the House decides the election, with one vote per state delegation. The GOP holds a 26 to 22 advantage, Pennsylvania tied and Michigan likely to be tied in the new Congress. Republicans would have the edge, but would be extremely vulnerable to defections and payoffs in some states that are very close. We could see Cabinet positions being traded for votes in the House.
All of these scenarios are based on every elector being faithful to the state’s decision. In 2016, 7 of the 538 electors choose to not vote for the winner of the state and instead vote for someone of their choosing. Colin Powell had 3 votes, while Bernie Sanders, John Kasich, Ron Paul and Faith Spotted Eagle all received 1 electoral vote. 5 of the defectors were pledged to Clinton (4 in Washington and 1 in Hawaii) and 2 were pledged to Trump (Texas). If just 1 or 2 faithless electors defect from the winner, it could toss this back into the House, or even throw the election to the other candidate. Dozens and dozens of scenarios exist where either candidate could win a narrow margin. I think the chances of the GOP buying off or corrupting the Democrat electors are virtually non-existent. I just don’t see it. The other way is where I have major concerns. It would only take a little green palm grease, threats, rewards or blackmail to flip a vote or two and turn this election into chaos.
We have plenty of issues with mail-in voting, ballot counting and “found” ballots after the election. The potential minefields don’t end there. Let’s all pray for decisive Trump victories in enough swing states to put the Electoral College out of reach and each of these states out of the reach of fraud.