More Ways to Break Tied Elections (Voting #6) Transcript

Transcript (PDF)

Most commonly, the law requires that we break tied elections by lot. That is, by some random mechanism. The most obvious options are the coin toss and the straw draw.[1] But sometimes, more amusing methods are used.

For example, in Mill City, Oregon, they rolled a die and the five beat the two.[2]

In Vegas, they did a high-card draw and the diamond king beat the diamond five.[3]

In Arizona, they played poker and the pair of sevens won.[4]

In Wyoming, they drew a ping-pong ball out of a cowboy hat on live TV.[5]

In Cook county, Minnesota, they were going to draw Scrabble tiles, but realized you could feel out Scrabble tiles. And so they drew colored dice instead.[6]

Resolving ties by lot is simple, cheap, and perfectly fair. But many are triggered by the idea that mere chance should decide something as sacred as an election. For such folks, we have several alternative tie-breaking procedures.

One alternative is to require a revote. This is the law in several Canadian provinces[7] and American states.[8] Indeed, this actually happened twice in two sizeable Quebec elections. In each case, the revote the following month was again extremely close, but at least had a clear-cut winner.[9]

Another alternative is to give someone the tie-breaking vote. In Ontario and New Brunswick, the Returning Officer gets this tie-breaking vote.[10] This practice was probably inherited from the UK, where in the 19th century, at least two ties were broken by the Returning Officer.[11] Today though, the UK resolves ties by lot.[12]

In Montana, the Governor gets the tie-breaking vote, at least for certain judicial and legislative elections.[13] And in the US Senate, the tie-breaking vote is given to the Vice President, who otherwise has no vote. Ties in the US Senate are pretty common. Since 1789, the Veep has broken 258 ties.[14]

In Rhode Island and Tennessee, tied gubernatorial elections are broken not by a single individual, but by the General Assembly.[15]

Next up. Breaking ties by age. In France, certain tied elections are broken in favor of the oldest.[16] This strange rule was applied at least thrice in the 2014 French municipal elections.[17]

How did this strange rule come about? During the French Revolution, a certain Count of Mirabeau suggested that tied elections be broken first by marital status, next by number of children, then by age. For some reason, only his third suggestion would be implemented.[18]

Our last tie-breaking procedure is also the dumbest. Previously, tied elections in Hawaii were broken by lot. But in 1990, hare-brained legislators decided to invent a meaningless and extremely complicated tie-breaking formula.[19]

This formula is so complicated and hare-brained that it actually contains a silly loophole. If two candidates have 20,000 votes each while a third candidate has only 10,000, it is perfectly possible that the third candidate is declared the winner!

So far, Hawaii has been spared this nightmare scenario. And in 2017, legislators tried scrapping this hare-brained formula, but unfortunately did not succeed.

The Hawaiian Loophole

Here I construct an example where two candidates each receive 20,000 votes while a third candidate receives 10,000, but the third candidate wins.

I assume we are in the scenario described in §11-157(1) — that is, there is only one district.

Say there are three candidates named 1, 2, and 3; and four precincts named a, b, c, and d. Each candidate’s votes from each precinct is as given in the table below — for example, candidate 1 receives 5,000 votes from precinct c.













































We calculate the election rate point as per §11-157(1)(A). So the election rate point for the four precincts are, respectively, 10,000/50,000 = 0.2; 10,000/50,000 = 0.2; 15,000/50,000 = 0.3; and 15,000/50,000 = 0.3.

Candidate 3 has the most votes in precincts a and b. And so as per §11-157(1)(B), he receives the election rate points from those precincts. And so candidate 3’s election rate point total (ERP) is given by

ERP3 = 0.2 + 0.2 = 0.4.

Candidate 2 has the most votes in precinct c. And so

ERP2 = 0.3.

Candidate 1 has the most votes in precinct d. And so

ERP1 = 0.3.

Since Candidate 3’s election rate point total is the highest among the three candidates, by §11-157(1)(C), he is declared elected.



[1] We already talked about the Bocaue coin toss in the last video. The straw draw was for the May 4 2017 election for Northampton City Council, South Blyth Division (UK). After two recounts, Lib Dem Leslie Rickerby and Conservative Daniel Carr were tied with 356 votes each (official results — note that the British custom is to count the tie-breaking lot as one vote). On May 5 2017, they drew straws: Carr drew the short straw and Rickerby was thereby elected (The Guardian story with video).

[2] In the Nov 8, 2016 election for Mill City Councilor, Hannah Baker and Scott J. Baughman each received 395 votes. They rolled the die on Dec 12, 2016. (Baker and Baughman received 332 and 341 votes in Linn County; and 63 and 54 in Marion County, so that each had a total of 395 votes. A grand total of 2,723 valid votes were cast in the two counties.) Statesman Journal story with video.

[3] In the April 5, 2011 municipal primary election for North Las Vegas, Council Ward 2 (official results), seven candidates were fighting for two spots on the ballot in the June 7, 2011 municipal general election. Pamela Goynes-Brown came first with 425 votes, while Linda Meisenheimer and Tanya Flanagan were tied in second place with 328 votes each. On April 21, 2011, Meisenhemer and Flanagan did the high-card draw. Meisenheimer’s diamond king beat Flanagan’s diamond five. (Las Vegas Sun story and YouTube video.) Meisenheimer would lose to Goynes-Brown in the general election anyway (official results).

[4] The Republican primary election for Arizona House District 6 was on Nov 3, 1992. After a recount, Richard Kyle and John Gaylord were tied, either with 3,760 each (according to 1992 Orlando Sentinel story and 1992 AP story in The Bulletin) or 3,762 votes each (according to 2012 Arizona Capital Times story). The game of poker was played on Sep 29, 1992. Kyle’s hand was 5♠, K♥, 7♣, 7♥, 6♦, while Gaylord’s was 6♥, 8♥, 9♥, 10♥, 5♣.  YouTube video (apparently uploaded by Richard Kyle).

[5] In the Nov 8, 1994 election for Wyoming House District 21, Randall Luthi and Larry Call were — after a recount — tied with 1,941 votes each. On Nov 16, 1994, Secretary of State Kathy Karpan drew a ping pong ball with Luthi’s name out of a battered cowboy hat belonging to Governor Mike Sullivan. (This was done live on NBC’s Today Show, but unfortunately I can’t find any footage.)  1994 LA Times story, 1994 New York Times story, somebody’s account, 2010 Casper Star Tribune story.

[6] In the Nov 4, 2014 election for Cook County (Minnesota) District 1 Commissioner, Frank Moe and Kristin Wharton each received 246 votes (official results).  Duluth News Tribune story, Cook County News Herald story. On Nov 10, 2014, Moe drew the red die and Wharton the blue die. Moe was thereby elected.

[7] According to the Compendium of Election Administration in Canada: A Comparative Overview (2016), Table E.4, in case of a tie, a by-election is called in Canada (national elections I believe), Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Quebec, and Saskatchewan.

[8] Just to give five examples: Connecticut (Ch. 149, Sec. 9-332), Louisiana (RS 18:512), Missouri (Title IX, 115.519), Oregon (2015 ORS 254.575), and South Carolina (7-13-2210).

[9] In the 12 Sep 1994 Quebec general election, Michel Charbonneau and Roger Paquin tied with 16,536 votes each in the Saint-Jean riding. In the 24 Oct 1994 special election, Paquin defeated Charbonneau 15,680-15,148 (official results).

In the 14 Apr 2003 Quebec general election, Noëlla Champagne and Pierre A. Brouillette tied with 11,852 votes each in the Champlain riding. In the 20 May 2003 special election, Champagne defeated Brouillette 10,073-9,431 (official results).

After Bocaue 2016, these are the two largest tied elections I know of (again if we ignore Ticino 2011).

[10] See footnote 7 above.

[11] In the July 22 1831 general election, Augustus Clifford and William Lowther tied with four votes for the constituency of Bandon. (A third candidate received two votes). The Provost John Swete, as Returning Officer, then voted a second time for Clifford, who was thereby elected. Lowther’s four voters entered a protest but to no avail. (Sources: 1, 2, 3.)

In the 1886 General Election, John Addison and Alexander Rowley tied with 3,049 votes each for the constituency of Ashton-under-Lyne. The Returning Officer then broke the tie in favor of Addison (source).

[12] Representation of the People Act (1983), Rule 49.

[13] MCA §13-6-503. Note that as the law is written, the governor can choose to appoint one of the non-tied candidates. For other offices, Montana employs different tie-breaking procedures — see §§13-6-501, 13-6-502, 13-6-504, 13-6-505, and 13-6-506.

[14] Dan Quayle was actually one of the few Veeps who didn’t get to break any ties during his tenure.

[15] RICA §17-2-3, TCA §2-8-111.

[16] See for example Code electoral L126, L262, L338, LO512. Note though that according to this 2016 Le Parisien article, the French law is silent when it comes to a tied presidential election. But one lawyer Olivier Duhamel speculates that the by-age tie-breaking rule might nonetheless apply.

[17] These were the March 2014 French municipal elections. In Lescar, Christian Laine and Philippe Coy were tied with 2,670 votes each. Laine’s list had a higher average age and was thus declared the winner. (Results at Annuaire Mairie, La République des Pyrénées April 9 and April 22 stories.)

In Saint-Front-de-Pradoux, Pierre-André Crouzille and Serge Olivier were tied with 277 votes each. Crouzille’s list had a higher average age and was thus declared the winner. (Results at Annuaire Mairie,  Sud Ouest Mar 31 and Apr 7 stories.)

In Saint-Loup-sur-Semouse, Thierry Bordot and Martine Bavard were tied with 598 votes each. Bordot’s list had a higher average age and was thus declared the winner. (Results at Annuaire Mairie, Libération Mar 31 story.)

Just to prove that there are sore losers everywhere, the losers in Lescar and Saint-Front-de-Pradoux appealed. I can’t find any information as to what happened to the Saint-Front-de-Pradoux appeal, which leads me to guess is that nothing came out of it.

But just to prove that the French are every bit as litigious as Americans, the Lescar appeal produced a long legal battle. Eventually, the Administrative Court annulled the election and called a fresh election, which took place in December 2014. This second election was again close, but had a clear-cut winner, with Laine (who had already been seated for 8 months) beating Coy 2,674-2,603. (Dec 14 stories by Sud Ouest Dec 14 story and La République des Pyrénées.)

[18] See for example Journal des États généraux, convoqués par Louis XVI., Volume 6, p. 344: A certain Mr. Régnault raised the motion, based on the idea given by Mirabeau in a speech, that “in case of an equal number of votes, preference should be given to him who had been married, to the one who had the greatest number of children, and, lastly, to the one who was the oldest.” I am unable to find any record of any subsequent debate, but this by-age tie-breaking rule would be codified by 1797: “In any election, when there is an equal number of votes, the oldest is preferred; in the case of equal age, by lot.”

[19] See HRS §11-157. I’m not sure what exactly inspired this hare-brained piece of legislation. The only account I can find is that by Anne Lee (2011), The Hawaii State Constitution, p. 117: In 1998, there was a tied election settled by lot. This somehow aroused controversy and subsequently begat the 1990 “reform”.