If no candidate secures 270 votes, who becomes the next U.S. president?
Although it’s improbable, a 269-269 Electoral College split – in which no candidate receives the necessary 270 votes to be elected president – is a distinct possibility.
In the case of the 2020 election, this could be possible if Michigan, Pennsylvania and Nebraska’s 2nd District vote for Joe Biden rather than for Donald Trump as they did in 2016. Those shifts, if all other state outcomes mirror 2016 results, would produce a 269-269 tie.
In the event of a tie or an inability of a single candidate to win a majority of Electoral College votes (consider the impact of third-party candidates), contingent election procedures under the Twelfth Amendment outline how the president and vice president are selected by Congress.
In short, the House votes to select the president while the Senate votes to select the vice president.
The House of Representatives votes for president
- States cast a single vote decided by the majority vote within their delegations.
- A majority of states’ votes (26 out of 50) is required to select the president.
- Party control of state delegations becomes the factor to watch in the new Congress.
- Republicans currently have control of 26 state delegations while Democrats have 22; two are evenly split.
- 18 states can delay the vote, as a quorum of two-thirds of states is required to hold the vote.
The Senate votes for vice president
- Senators select the vice president with a simple majority vote.
- The sitting vice president can cast a tie-breaking vote.
- 67 senators needed to hold the vote, as a quorum of two-thirds of the Senate is required. This means 34 senators could block the vote under contested scenario.
If Congress can’t decide …
- The Senate-selected vice president becomes acting president on January 20 if the House cannot select a president.
- If the Senate is also unable to select a vice president, the speaker of the house becomes acting president, per succession rules.
The likelihood of an Electoral College tie is remote, but not impossible. And if it were to occur, it could produce unique outcomes – such as a spilt party president/vice president or an acting President Pence, Pelosi, Chuck Grassley or Patrick Leahy, per presidential order of succession rules.
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