Evan Katz

Back in July, I wrote a blog post about what might happen if Joe Biden and Donald Trump tied in the Electoral College. Since then, the map has changed a little bit, but there’s a new tie scenario that I’m keeping an eye on.

In this scenario, Biden flips Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin but Trump manages to hold the remaining states and congressional districts he won in 2016.

Here’s how this could happen:

  1. We should have a good sense of who won both Florida and North Carolina by the end of the day. Both states have already begun counting their mail-in ballots and should have near-complete results tonight.
  2. If Trump has a lead in both Florida and North Carolina after tonight, it’s likely he’ll be emboldened to prematurely declare victory.
  3. Assuming a slim Trump victory in both states, Trump would have a 91% chance of winning Georgia, according to FiveThirtyEight.
  4. We likely won’t know Pennsylvania’s results tonight. Because the state will continue accepting mail-in ballots through the end of the week, and mail-in voters tend to skew Democratic, it’s possible Pennsylvania will end the day with a Trump lead.
  5. However, instead of allowing Pennsylvania’s blue shift to happen, Trump and the GOP will throw legal challenge after legal challenge at the state to attempt to halt it from counting mail-in ballots received after November 3.
  6. A GOP-friendly federal judiciary might be amenable to these Republican legal challenges, preventing Pennsylvania from being able to finish counting its mail-in ballots and effectively handing the state’s 20 electoral votes to Trump.
  7. In most of the rest of the country, Biden maintains his polling leads. This means he wins Arizona, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
  8. The election would then come down to whether or not Biden wins either Maine’s 2nd congressional district or Nebraska’s 2nd congressional district. ME-2 voted for Trump in 2016, while NE-2 voted for Obama in 2008. FiveThirtyEight expects Biden to win both, while Sabato’s Crystal Ball has Trump favored in ME-2. If Trump holds onto both—and FiveThirtyEight’s simulator gives Trump a greater-than-60% chance in both districts if he also wins Florida and North Carolina—the Electoral College would be locked at 269.

FiveThirtyEight currently gives an Electoral College tie a 0.5% chance of happening. That’s likelier than the New England Patriots coming back from being down 25 points late in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI (as an Atlanta Falcons fan, that still haunts me). So, while very unlikely, it’s not impossible.

Of course, I’m hoping for a quick resolution by early tomorrow morning. Ideally, Biden wins in a landslide and the results are never in doubt. But 2016 definitely has me nervous. Regardless of what happens tonight, I’ll check back in tomorrow with some thoughts on the results we know.