A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the Electoral College and how Donald Trump could stop Hillary Clinton from winning 270 electoral votes.
The implied assumption from my piece was that Trump would automatically win by stopping Clinton. Of course, that’s not necessarily true — I left out an obvious outcome. What if nobody wins? What if neither candidate reaches 270 electoral votes?
There are two main ways this could happen:
1.) Libertarian Gary Johnson wins a state (or two) and throws off the electoral map.
This seemed like a more likely outcome in July and August. It’s little more than a pipe dream now. Johnson will almost assuredly be excluded from the presidential debates. His poll numbers continue to slowly decline, now hovering in the high single digits. Johnson supporters often tout Utah and New Mexico as states he could potentially win, but he is still losing badly in both places. A recent poll out of Utah gave Trump a 39-24-13 lead over Clinton and Johnson, respectively, and a New Mexico poll from late August gave Clinton a 40-31-16 lead, with Johnson trailing Clinton by 24.
Gary Johnson is not going to win a state. No way. But what if he did?
If Johnson manages to win Utah (six electoral votes assumed for Trump) and New Mexico (five electoral votes assumed for Clinton), in a neck and neck race where the battleground states fall in a certain fashion, a “nobody wins” scenario is possible.
2.) Trump and Clinton finish in a 269-269 electoral tie.
The other possibility doesn’t require a third-party spoiler at all. Take a look at the following map:
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There is only one “unconventional” result in there — New Hampshire going for Trump. But that possibility isn’t nearly as crazy as you might think. NBC News released a poll out of typically blue New Hampshire just over a week ago showing Clinton leading Trump by just two points, 39-37. In a head-to-head matchup ignoring Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, she led just 42-41. New Hampshire is very much in play.
The rest of the battleground states could easily fall in a logical way: Clinton wins Colorado, New Mexico, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Trump wins Nevada, Arizona, Iowa, Ohio, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. This would result in something that hasn’t happened since 1824 — no candidate winning the majority of electoral votes, thus throwing the election into the House of Representatives.
Wouldn’t a 269-269 finish be the most 2016 thing ever?
One more consideration: Maine (four electoral votes) and Nebraska (five electoral votes) award their electoral votes by congressional district. In both states, the statewide popular vote awards two electoral votes, while each of Maine’s two congressional districts and Nebraska’s three congressional districts are allowed to determine their own electoral vote.
That means both Nebraska and Maine could realistically split up their electors on November 8th. Nebraska as a whole is very likely to vote for Trump, but Nebraska’s second congressional district is a swing district — a Democrat, Rep. Brad Ashford, represents them in the U.S. House. Could Hillary Clinton win big in Omaha and steal an electoral vote in Nebraska, propelling her to 270 electoral votes and the presidency?
Maine is in the same boat. As a whole, the state typically votes Democrat, but its second congressional district is represented in the U.S. House by Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin. The last two public polls in Maine’s CD-2 gave Trump five and ten point leads. It’s not only possible Trump might win one of Maine’s four electoral votes — it appears to be likely.
Correction: A 270-268 win for Donald Trump would be the most 2016 thing ever.
Jon Schweppe is the Communications Director at American Principles Project.