A system and protocol are provided for routing data packets from a host on a LAN through a virtual address belonging to a group of routers. The host is configured to point to the virtual address so that the packets it sends out of its LAN are always directed to a virtual router which may be any one of the group of routers. An active router in the group of routers emulates the virtual router. A standby router, also from the group of routers, backs up the active router so that if the active router becomes inoperative, the standby router automatically begins emulating the virtual router. The host router does not know which router from the group is actually handling the data packets it sends. If the standby router becomes inoperative or takes over for the active router, other routers in the group hold an election to determine which of them should take over for the standby router.