US ELECTIONS 2020

Electoral college: what is a 'contingent election'?

The people voted for Donald Trump or Joe Biden on 3 November, but what would happen if neither candidate secured a majority of electoral votes?

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What is a 'contingent election' and what happens if the Biden-Trump vote ends in a tie?
RACHEL WISNIEWSKI REUTERS

On 3 November, it was US Presidential Election day, with the people of America choosing between incumbent Donald Trump and former vice-president Joe Biden for who would be the next person to lead the country. 

Biden held a healthy lead in the polls nationwide, but the election played out much tighter than expected, although this was a lot to do with the order of the mail-in ballots being counted later, especially in key battleground states. Biden won and on 14 December the electoral college went through the process of confirming him as the next president.

But what would happen if there was a tie in the electoral votes between Donald Trump and Joe Biden?

US election: what is a contingent election?

A determination that neither candidate has secured a majority of electoral votes would trigger a "contingent election" under the 12th Amendment of the Constitution. That means the House of Representatives chooses the next president, while the Senate selects the vice president.

Each state delegation in the House gets a single vote. As of now, Republicans control 26 of the 50 state delegations, while Democrats have 22; one is split evenly and another has seven Democrats, six Republicans and a Libertarian.

A contingent election also takes place in the event of a 269-269 tie after the election; there are several plausible paths to a deadlock in 2020.

Any election dispute in Congress would play out ahead of a strict deadline - Jan. 20, when the Constitution mandates that the term of the current president ends.

Under the Presidential Succession Act, if Congress still has not declared a presidential or vice presidential winner by then, the Speaker of the House would serve as acting president. Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, is the current speaker.