Three Tied Elections Decided by Coin Toss (Voting #5) Transcript

Transcript (PDF)

Tied elections may seem impossible, but they’re actually not too uncommon. After all, every year around the world, there are thousands of elections, some of which are tiny.

Take Colp, a village of 250 in Illinois. [1] In the April 2017 presidential election, Village Clerk and self-described Geek[2] tied with 11 votes each. How was this tie resolved?

Illinois law[3] requires that we resolve ties by lot. That is, randomly. And so they did the good old coin toss. Village Clerk won and was thereby crowned President.

As you can see, this was all settled very amicably and Geek didn’t bother disputing the result. After all, the stakes weren’t exactly high. But raise the stakes by even a little and we may have a sore loser.

Take Pepper Pike, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio.[4] In November 2005, four city council seats were up for grabs. Two candidates were tied for the fourth and last seat with 1,124 votes each. As in Illinois, Ohio law requires that we resolve ties by lot.[5] And so they tossed a coin and the winner was declared the fourth city councilor. You’d think that’d be the end of the matter. But no, the battle over Pepper Pike’s fourth council seat would stretch an astonishing 14 months![6] [“What!?”]

Now. To be fair to other democracies, the US is exceptional. It has exceptionally messy, complicated, and badly-run elections. And so in every election, there are always plenty of irregularities, technicalities, and questionable votes that can be contested.

For contrast, consider the Philippines. Not exactly the greatest democracy on earth, but at least close elections there don’t turn into interminable and costly legal battles.

Bocaue is a city of about 120,000, just north of Manila. In the May 2016 mayoral election, two candidates tied with 16,694 votes each. This, by the way, is the largest tied election I know of.[7] And actually, it wasn’t just a tied election, but also a very close three-way race.

Like Illinois and Ohio, the Philippines resolves ties by lot.[8] And so they did a best-of-five coin toss, which, as you can see, was executed with complete professionalism.

The loser got sore and decided to contest the result. Given the tie, all he had to do was uncover one questionable ballot. A single ballot that suffered from some technical defect like a hanging chad or a missing official stamp. In any US election, he would easily have dug up dozens of such ballots.

But not in Bocaue.

In Bocaue, all he could produce was the pathetic argument that during the coin toss, he hadn’t been present or properly represented. This argument was quite easily dismissed by the Philippine Commission on Elections and that was the end of the matter.

So far, we’ve looked at three tied elections and all three were broken by coin toss. But as we’ll see in the next video, the coin toss is hardly the only way to break ties.


[1] The US Census population estimate was 224 on July 1, 2016.

[2] See The Southern Illinoisan, 2017-04-07, “Race for village president in Colp to be decided by coin toss”; and U.S. News & World Report, 2017-04-21, “Coin Flip Decides New President of Southern Illinois Village”.

[3] I.C.S. §7-46.

[4] The US Census population estimate was 6,198 on July 1, 2016.

[5] O.R.C. §3505.33.

[6] The election was held on November 8, 2005. The second coin toss was held on February 28, 2007.

[7] At least among simple elections with only one position to be filled. (An 2011 Ticino election had two candidates tied with 23,979 votes each, out of a total of 760,995 votes, but there were 8 positions involved.)

[8] Comelec Resolution 10083, March 15, 2016.