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N.H. Electoral College votes could be in play in 2012

New Hampshire is considered one of about a dozen swing states in the upcoming 2012 presidential election.

But, as the popular vote and -- more importantly -- the Electoral College votes are counted the evening of Nov. 6, what does that mean?

According to some scenarios, it could mean that the Granite State’s four Electoral College votes might, in a close race, decide the difference between Democrat Barack Obama remaining president or Republican Mitt Romney becoming president.

Let’s first understand just what the Electoral College is ... or is not.

It is not a place. “It is a process that began as part of the original design of the U.S. Constitution. The Electoral College was established by the founding fathers as a compromise between election of the president by Congress and election by popular vote,” according to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which administers the Electoral College.

Each state - plus the District of Columbia - is assigned a certain number of Electoral College votes based on that state’s number of representatives to the U.S. House, plus its two U.S. Senators.

New Hampshire’s number of four, then, it based on its two representatives and its two senators.

So how does a state with such few Electoral College votes play such a big potential role in the 2012 election, especially against such other swing states as Ohio (18) or Florida (29) or Michigan (16) or Virginia (13)?

The magic number is 270.

There are 538 Electoral Votes up for grabs, and the candidate who garners at least 270 of them is the winner.

“To look at the Electoral College race we keep talking about 270, that’s what you need to win. It’s actually pretty easy to end up with a tie, which is 269 to 269,” said Amy Walter political director at ABC News, noting there are many web sites where you can play with the Electoral College numbers.

Walter was part of a panel on the Tuesday (May 22) National Public Radio broadcast of the Diane Rehm Show that examined the swing states and the Electoral College.

“New Hampshire seems to be that piece of the puzzle there and where you move that can determine just whether or not the Electoral College is tied,” she said. “And in that case, as we know, it goes to the House of Representatives to pick the winner of the presidential race.So, how many congressional seats one party has is very important.”

More specifically, according to NARA: Each state delegation in the House has one vote. The Senate would elect the vice president. Each senator would cast one vote for vice president. If the House of Representatives fails to elect a president by Inauguration Day, the vice-president elect serves as acting president until the deadlock is resolved in the House.

New Hampshire’s House delegation is made up of two Republicans - Frank Guinta from the 1st Congressional District and Charlie Bass from the 2nd CD.

It isn’t hard to guess where the delegation’s vote would go if it went to the House.

Is the Electoral College system the best way to elect a president?

The last time the popular vote and the presidential vote were at odds was in 2008. Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote 48.4 to 47.9 percent over Republican George Bush. But Bush won 271 Electoral College votes to Gore’s 266.

The last time there was a tie in the Electoral College was in 1824 when the House of Representatives chose John Adams over Andrew Jackson.

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