The season finale of HBO’s Veep ended with a campaign manager’s nightmare scenario: A presidential election that ends in an actual tie of electoral votes.
“What happens when there’s a tie?” asks Tom James, played by Hugh Laurie. Her communications director (Matt Walsh) furiously turns to Google while another staffer (Diedrich Bader) desperately casts about for a more tangible answer.
Fortunately, should such an event occur, Google might turn up Kyle Kondik’s January blog post on the subject, in which he runs the numbers on what happens in the event of an electoral college tie. Such a scenario has only occurred twice in American history, the managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball writes, once in 1800 and once in 1824. So it’s no wonder President Selena Mayer and her staff started panicking.
“No one would have any living memory of it,” Kondik told ThinkProgress. “It would be a ridiculous spectacle, which is what Veep excels at portraying, just the absurdity of American politics and some aspects of our electoral system.”
The answer that Veep put forward is correct, as Kondik laid out in his post: If there is a 269–269 tie of the infamous 538 electoral votes, the duty would then fall to the House to elect the President. It wouldn’t be like a regular House vote, however. Each state would get one vote, determined by the new congressional delegation in each state. In a not-implausible scenario, this is how Kondik figured it would have to happen to get to an Electoral College tie:
In our current electoral world, Kondik argues, Democrats had better hope a tie never happens, because the healthy Republican majority in the House (made possible by gerrymandering of congressional districts at the state level) would simply throw their vote to the Republican nominee.
In the world of Veep, the outcome of the House was also up in the air. There, Kondik says, the writers behind Veep perhaps had to suspend some disbelief. “You can’t imagine a world in which Democrats make huge House gains but the presidential election is very close,” he said.
Using Ohio as an example, Kondik pointing out that if the Democratic nominee won there again, as Obama did in 2012, the state still has an overwhelming number of Republican seats in the delegation. If Democrats managed to re-take enough seats that the House would be in play, he pointed out, the Democratic nominee would have virtually swept the electoral vote. “I’m sorry but the Ohio Republican House delegation is going to vote for the Republican nominee. I mean, they’d be stupid not to,” he said.
In this way, Veep nails one thing: the Electoral College is an absurd system that sometimes winds up producing a president that the majority of the people didn’t elect. It wasn’t that long ago that such a result happened, and it wasn’t so funny to a lot of people then.
“[Al] Gore won the popular vote [in 2000] and you’d think in a national election the winner of the popular vote would win the presidency. And obviously that’s not what happened. You could have a scenario in which for the second time in 16 years you would have a situation where the popular will of the voters didn’t produce the president,” Kondik said. “You think confidence in American instructions are already low, but it could always get worse. It would be a very ugly scene.”
But what about the Veep spot on Veep? Did the writers get that right? Kondik points out that they nailed that, too. The vice president is indeed selected by the Senate. On the show, that spot went to Hugh Laurie’s Tom James. Selena would not be pleased.
Kondik says he likes the show but hasn’t kept up with it. When this writer speculated that the writers of the show may have seen his post and used it as inspiration, he said, “I would be flattered if they did.”