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The question is pretty much in the title. Let's say in state X, there are 3 candidates: A, B, and C. A wins 49% of the popular vote, B wins 49% of the popular vote, and C wins 2% of the popular vote. Clearly, no one has won a majority.

Who gets the electoral college votes in this case? Does it change if there is a clear plurality, but not majority, winner (ie, A wins 40%, B wins 30%, C wins 30%)?

I would imagine this varies state by state (and DC), but can't seem to find anything.

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  • 3
    Does this answer your question? Which electors are chosen in divided state?
    – Mark
    Nov 18 '20 at 23:38
  • @Mark That question asks about a 51-49% state. This question asks about an exactly tied 49-49% state. Nov 19 '20 at 0:35
  • There is no such thing as a tied election, there are always tiebreakers to break a tie.
    – Joe W
    Nov 19 '20 at 1:43
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In most states, the candidate with the most votes will get the state's electoral college votes (or the district's electoral vote, in the case of Nebraska), regardless of whether or not this is a majority.

An exact tie is statistically very unlikely, and different states have different laws on dealing with them. Some states, such as California, will break the tie by lot. Other states, such as Georgia, do not set out in law what happens in the event of a tie.

Maine introduced ranked choice voting in this election. If no candidate gets an overall majority of the first-choice votes, then the candidate in last place is eliminated, votes previously counting for that candidate get transferred to the voter's second choice, and the process is repeated until a candidate does get an overall majority.

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  • Would you happen to have a list of states in which it is not the case that the plurality winner gets the votes (ie, where you need a majority)?
    – zz20s
    Nov 18 '20 at 21:31
  • 1
    Maine is the only such state, because of the ranked choice voting system that they introduced. All other states simply require a plurality.
    – Joe C
    Nov 18 '20 at 21:33
  • My guess is that there are common law precedents in Georgia resolving tied elections by lot, even though the solution isn't set forth by statute. Surely it has come up in a state that has had state and local government elections since even before 1776 and has had many rural local governments for most of its history (often with small pools of eligible voters) and reported decisions of how it was resolved would be powerful legal precedents.
    – ohwilleke
    Nov 19 '20 at 1:50
  • @ohwilleke My guess is that there isn't, for a common law precedent would require there to have been a tie. Insofar as I can tell from this list, there has never been a tie for a federal-level office (and only a handful at the state level, Georgia not among them): en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_close_election_results
    – Joe C
    Nov 19 '20 at 8:59
  • @JoeC With all due respect to Wikipedia, there are usually a few ties every year and at least one or two per state in local races. The fact that a few tied municipal or count election cases and more than two centuries escaped Wikipedia's list isn't very persuasive. The federal v. state v. local distinction is irrelevant because all elections are administered pursuant to state law, even federal ones.
    – ohwilleke
    Nov 19 '20 at 22:13
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Whether it's a tie, a dispute, or no candidate gets a majority, the answer is the same. State law determines to who gets the votes.

From National Archives, Electoral College, Frequently Asked Questions,

What would happen if two candidates tied in a state’s popular vote, or if there was a dispute as to the winner?

A tie is a statistically remote possibility, even in smaller States, and would not be known until late November or early December, after a recount and after the Secretary of State for the State had certified the election results. But if a state’s popular vote were to end in a tie between candidates, State law would determine what procedure would be followed in breaking the tie (See 3 U.S.C. section 5).

Following the November 2017 election, one candidate for a Virginia House of Delegates seat was ahead by two (2) votes. Since the results were so close, there was a recount which found that one (1) vote had been miscounted. After the recount, the candidates had the same number of votes. Following State law, they drew lots for a winner. The candidates put their names on individual pieces of paper and put the pieces in a bowl. A neutral third party pulled a name out of the bowl and that candidate was declared the winner.

A very close finish could also result in a run-off election or legal action to decide the winner. Just like a tie, State law determines how the winner is decided, and would be conclusive in determining the selection of electors. The law provides that if States have laws to determine controversies or contests as to the selection of electors, those determinations must be completed at least six days before the meeting of the electors.

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