In the 2008 movie "Swing Vote", the presidential election is essentially tied. The only state that hasn't reported in is New Mexico, because it's waiting for a single precinct, which is waiting for a single voter, played by Kevin Costner.

I've always wondered if the first part of that scenario could happen: could New Mexico decide the electoral vote?

The country currently has 538 electoral votes, of which New Mexico has 5. I think this means that New Mexico could decide the election if Candidate A had at least 265, Candidate B had 268 at most, and their total would have to be 533.

My questions are:

1) Is my math correct?

2) Since each state has a specific, non-random number of electoral votes, could this situation arise?

  • 1
    In the movie, is Costner a member of the Electoral College casting his electoral vote or a normal citizen voting on Election Day? And what is the reason that the nation is waiting for him? Nov 10, 2016 at 3:23
  • He's a normal citizen. He's the only uncounted vote in his small precinct, and I guess the rest of the state is completely tied. Its a stretch, but it's a comedy-drama. That's partly why my question is about the more realistic issue of whether a state with a small population could swing the electoral vote. Nov 10, 2016 at 3:30
  • 5
    So the rest of the votes are counted before he voted? And nobody has called for a recount? The short answer is that there is no way that could happen :-) If you'd like to focus on a certain part of the situation, it would be helpful to edit the question to indicate what parts we should suspend our disbelief on. Nov 10, 2016 at 3:45
  • I think I already addressed that when I asked "if the first part of that scenario [New Mexico being the remaining swing state] could happen" Nov 10, 2016 at 3:50
  • Yeah, I guess you did. Perhaps you could edit your question to include that so future readers don't have to go through the comment chain. Nov 10, 2016 at 3:52

2 Answers 2


1) Is my math correct?

In so far as it goes, yes, it is. However, see the next point:

2) Since each state has a specific, non-random number of electoral votes, could this situation arise?

The number of electoral votes each state gets changes every 10 years. Each state has a minimum of 3, so in theory there would be some combinations that could never happen (such as 537-1). However, two states (Maine and Nebraska) award an electoral vote to the winner of each district in the state in addition to one for the overall winner, so it should be possible for every numeric combination to happen.

However, the vote of a state is largely influenced by its demographics. So there are certain combinations of votes which are exceedingly unlikely to occur in reality (within any given election - demographics change between elections). That said, not having a winner declared with one state left to report is a very feasible situation - that's what happened in 2000. From Wikipedia:

As the final national results were tallied the following morning, Bush had clearly won a total of 246 electoral votes, while Gore had won 255 votes. 270 votes were needed to win. Two smaller states—New Mexico (5 electoral votes) and Oregon (7 electoral votes)—were still too close to call. It was Florida (25 electoral votes), however, that the news media focused their attention on. Mathematically, Florida's 25 electoral votes became the key to an election win for either candidate. Although both New Mexico and Oregon were declared in favor of Gore over the next few days, Florida's statewide vote took center stage because that state's winner would ultimately win the election. The outcome of the election was not known for more than a month after the balloting ended because of the extended process of counting and then recounting Florida's presidential ballots.

  • +1 for the point about Maine and Nebraska, meaning almost any combination of electoral votes could occur, which almost completely answers my question. Jan 19, 2017 at 19:19

Your maths are correct. They exclude the case where a tie would appear (I am not sure what would happen then).

There may be plenty of configurations for the other states where this would occur. To determine one is a purely mathematical problem (known as the subset sum problem). I can display one if you wish. I did not see the movie. Do they say what happens in each of the other states ?

  • In the event of an electoral college tie, or indeed any scenario in which no candidate receives a majority of electoral college votes, the election is decided by the houseof representatives.
    – phoog
    Dec 24, 2016 at 5:30
  • I'd like to see your example. (In the movie, I don't recall what happened in the other states, but I think they said the electoral vote was tied otherwise.) Dec 27, 2016 at 19:59

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