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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And I'm Melissa Block.
Most polls in the presidential race show the national popular vote to be a virtual tie. But as we know, the popular does not pick the president. That's the job of the Electoral College. And some election number crunchers are starting to explore the nightmare scenario of an Electoral College tie. It's a remote possibility, but a possibility nonetheless.
Here to explore how this might happen and how a tie would be resolved is NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Ron, hi.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Melissa.
BLOCK: Two hundred seventy electoral votes to win, there are scenarios, though, that would end up with a 269 to 269 tie. How remote a possibility is that?
ELVING: It's quite remote. But we saw in 2000 that George W. Bush won with 271, so, you know, you can get awfully close. And we have eight states that are battlegrounds, tossups. That's Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia and Florida. And depending on how those electoral votes get distributed, it could actually wind up 269 all.
BLOCK: And here's where we get down to the nitty-gritty, because there are two states that award electoral votes by congressional districts, right, not winner take all: Nebraska and Maine, which means both candidates are microtargeting individual districts in those two states.
BLOCK: To get that one extra electoral vote they would need.
ELVING: Yes. And isn't it incredible? We did see, though, in the year 2008, just the last presidential election, the congressional district around Omaha, Nebraska, favored Barack Obama. Now, the rest of the state went quite handily for John McCain. And we expect Nebraska to go quite handily for Mitt Romney. So what happens if just that one part of Nebraska, the easternmost district centered in the city of Omaha, is Obamaha again, as it was four years ago?
That could change the scenario by which we saw Mitt Romney winning with 270 electoral votes nationally - and it's possible to put together that math - and then not winning because just that one city, just that one congressional district in Nebraska was taken away from his total of 270, leaving him at 269, and giving President Obama a tie.
BLOCK: If it is a tie, Ron, in the Electoral College, that's when the 12th Amendment kicks in. What happens? What's the mechanism there?
ELVING: Well, the Electoral College meets, as ever, in December, and it votes according to the vote in their states, and it comes out to a 269 tie. At that point, the new House - and I have to stress here, it's the new House that's being elected on November 6th - that would meet in January and take a vote to see who they prefer to be the president.
Now, it's not a vote of every member of the House. It's a vote of the 50 States in the House. And each state gets one vote, and the members of the House from that state have to get together and decide which presidential candidate they're going to vote for. Presumably, most of them are going to go with their party preference with their party candidate.
But it's also possible that, especially in the states where they have even the numbers of members of the House, they could wind up with a dispute over which one they preferred.
BLOCK: There's a really interesting little footnote here, Ron, which is that it is the Senate that would pick the vice president in the case of an electoral tie. If the Senate were to stay in Democratic control, presumably, they would pick Joe Biden. You might have a Republican-controlled House picking Mitt Romney. You end up with a Romney-Biden administration.
ELVING: Yes, you would.
BLOCK: Implausible but possible.
ELVING: As implausible as much of the rest of this, perhaps even more implausible. But here's another thought: if the House, because the divided delegations that don't vote, can't ever get to a decision, can't actually pick a president by the time the Senate then meets, the Senate would choose the vice president who would become the president. So you could have, out of all these scenarios, a President Biden.
BLOCK: NPR senior Washington editor, Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much.
ELVING: Thank you, Melissa.
BLOCK: And if you want to fiddle around with your own Electoral College scenarios, you can do that at our interactive Swing State Scorecard at npr.org.