What happens if nobody gets 270 electoral votes?

Mary Whitfill

As vote counting continued into the early hours of Wednesday morning, one question came to the forefront of Americans' minds: What happens if neither candidate rakes in the needed 270 electoral college votes?

As of 9 a.m. Wednesday, seven states remained uncalled in the 2020 presidential election and neither candidate was within spitting distance of the necessary 270 electoral votes it takes to win a presidential election.

Trump, who won Texas and Florida, had 213 electoral votes. Biden, who took California and Arizona, had 238. Maine, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Georgia, Nevada and Alaska remains up in the air.

The close race begs the question: Can there be a tie between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden?

The simple answer is yes.

It's unlikely, but here's what would happen if Trump and Biden each received 269 electoral votes.

The presidential election is left up to members of the House of Representatives in the event of a tie or any results where no one wins 270 electoral votes. The choice for the vice president is left up to the Senate.

The president isn’t technically chosen on Election Day. Members of the Electoral College gather in their states on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December following the election to officially elect the president. The electors will meet on Dec. 14 this year.

If the votes go to the House, states will vote as units. What that means: All of the House members from one state come together and vote, like their own mini state. Each delegation gets one vote.

Trump or Biden would need to win the backing of 26 state delegations to win the presidency.

While Democrats continue to hold a majority in the House overall, when broken down by state delegation, Republicans control a majority of the state delegations. It’s unclear whether that will change following the Nov. 3 election results. That means it could be good news for Trump if the race goes to the House.

In the Senate, members vote individually for the next vice president. If Republicans continue to hold the majority following the Nov. 3 election results, Vice President Mike Pence will likely be re-elected to his role.

Members of the newly elected Congress would be the ones to vote for the president and vice president.

If this scenario happens, it will be the latest turn in a highly unusual and a very competitive election cycle, one that is often labeled as the “most important election” of our lifetime.

The last time there was a tie in the Electoral College was in 1800. Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams by earning 73 electoral votes in the presidential election to Adams' 65.

When presidential electors cast their votes, however, they failed to distinguish between the office of president and vice president on their ballots, giving both Jefferson and his running mate Aaron Burr 73 votes each. Ultimately, the sitting Congress voted to decide the president. 

Jefferson was inaugurated in 1801, and the 12th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified three years later. The amendment provides that electors “name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President.”

Information from USA Today, The Patriot Ledger's parent company, was used in this report.