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Stacy Column: Fun with electoral math

By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News

With less than a month to go until Election Day, it truly is the homestretch of this seemingly never ending presidential race. It has only been two weeks since my last column, and yet a ridiculous amount has happened affecting the contest between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. And while it might be fun to analyze all the news and how it might sway the race, any analysis I give would be out of date three hours after it published given how this news cycle is churning.

Instead, I’ll stick to what I promised: electoral math and the pathway each candidate has to winning the presidency.

Let me stop right here and acknowledge the obvious: as of this writing, Biden has a comfortable lead, not just in national polls, but in key battleground states as well. Yet, most states remain in reach for Trump and three weeks is an eternity in politics, as anyone who lived through 2016 can attest. There are still plenty of ways Trump can win this thing and more still that Biden can lose it, so my analysis assumes each has a shot in this race at the moment.

Onto the maps.

Actually, one more thing. I’m going to stop again and say how much it bothers me that we are still doing the Red for Republicans and Blue for Democrats thing. Those colors are opposite of the traditional ideologies they represent. Red has historically been associated with left-leaning parties just as blue has been associated with right-leaning parties. They still get it right in Britain, but Tim Russert and Tom Brokaw ruined our palate forever. End rant.

I’ll start with what is the basic status quo of where we are electorally, with many states in the “safe” column for either side, some leaning one way but still in play, and four key battleground states up for grabs: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona. To win, a candidate must secure 270 electoral votes. That’s it.That’s the only number that matters.

On this base map, Trump would need 22 votes from the remaining states and Biden would need 37. How could each get to victory?


To get over the top, Trump needs to win any one of the following combination of states:

Pennsylvania and Michigan



Pennsylvania and Wisconsin

Pennsylvania and Arizona

Michigan and Wisconsin

Michigan and Arizona


Biden’s path is similar, but, in our base map of battleground states, there is no two-state combo that gets him there.

To get over the top, Biden needs to win any combination of the following:

Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin

Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona


Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Arizona 


Or Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona


If these states are truly tight on Election Day, Biden technically has a higher mountain to climb because, no matter what, he has to go 3 for 4, while Trump has a few 2 for 4 paths. At the moment, however, it is not that tight.

The Real Clear Politics polling average shows Biden with an advantage in all four states:


Okay, let’s get weird. There’s one scenario from our base map I didn’t include. That would be Trump winning Wisconsin and Arizona, while Biden wins Pennsylvania and Michigan. What happens then? You guessed it: a 269-269 tie in the Electoral College.


There are actually several scenarios that lead to a tie. My favorite, just for the chaos factor and how the map looks, is Trump winning only Wisconsin from our base map, but also winning Minnesota and Maine’s 2nd Congressional district, leading to another 269-269 tie. Maine, like Nebraska, awards two electoral votes to the overall winner in the state, then one electoral voter per congressional district. Maine’s 2nd District is fairly conservative, so this is a plausible outcome.

At the same time, Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District is pretty moderate, so if it goes to Biden, it would put him over the top. (Play with your own Electoral College map at

What happens in the event of a tie in the Electoral College? First, the electors would meet and cast their votes (they can do this remotely). There are 32 states, including Alabama, with laws compelling their electors to cast their votes as they have been allocated; or, in other words, become “faithless electors” and cast a state’s votes for the other candidate. Many of those states allow for any such “faithless” votes to be cancelled, and a recent Supreme Court ruling suggests that any state could ultimately cancel the votes of faithless electors. So, the likelihood of an Electoral College vote different from the one certified by the states is low. Not zero, but low.

Assuming a tie remains after the Electoral College vote, the process then moves to Congress. Here’s where it gets really interesting.

Most anyone who took high school civics is aware that the vote to decide who the president is goes to the House of Representatives. And, as anyone who has seen Hamilton can attest, this has happened before and can get pretty hairy. That might lead you to think, given the Democrats’ strong control of the House, that the body would vote to make Biden president. However, Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution calls for that vote to be counted by state, with each state receiving one vote. That means a candidate needs a majority of 26 state congressional delegations to win. Right now, Republicans hold a majority of 26 state congressional delegations to Democrats’ 23. Neither party has a majority in Pennsylvania’s delegation. So, if the House voted as it is now, Trump would likely be the winner.

However, it’s not the current Congress that votes, but the one seated in January 2021 as a result of the 2020 elections. So, based on what happens in November, that GOP advantage in state delegations could change.

What about vice president? Okay, here’s where it gets really weird.

In the event of a tie, the Constitution calls on the Senate to decide who the vice president will be. Unlike the House, it is a simple roll call of senators rather than a state count. But, like the House, it is a vote of the next Senate, not the current one, and tight races in North Carolina and Montana are likely to decide the majority. Should Democrats prevail in those two states, they would likely control the Senate majority in 2021, and, with everybody voting as expected, elect Kamala Harris Vice President of the United States.

At the risk of being completely ridiculous, let’s explore the possibility that the tie isn’t broken in Congress. Florida only has one more Republican than Democrat in its delegation, meaning if one seat flips, so does the state’s vote for president. Pennsylvania could easily go Democratic. If both those happen, then Republicans and Democrats would be split evenly with 25 state congressional delegations a piece. The House would likely just keep voting until a winner emerged, but that could take a while.

Likewise, in the Senate, if Republicans win Montana and Democrats win North Carolina, there would be a 50-50 tie. But, even though it would be a new Senate, Vice President Mike Pence would still be in office and, based on my understanding of the Constitution, cast the tie breaking vote for himself.

I would say a tie in the Electoral College is unlikely – plausible, but unlikely. However, if a tie does happen, it becomes downright likely that we could end up with a Trump-Harris administration OR a Biden Pence administration. What a country.

And before you dismiss all this, remember what year it is. A major constitutional crisis would be par for the course for 2020.

Still, when they say everything is on the ballot this year, it’s true.

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