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Deciding Tied Elections By Flipping A Coin!

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Having an election end in a tie is pretty rare and amazingly in 35 states, the law indicates that ties should be broken by a “game of chance”. Some states require that a tie election be decided by a coin toss but many do not specify the exact details of the game of chance to be used. In New York a tie election can be decided by holding a run-off election or the candidates can agree to decide the election by drawing lots.

At the federal level, a 2001 study found that of the 16,577 federal elections held between 1898 and 1992, none was tied. Tie elections typically occur at the local level where fewer numbers of votes are cast.

This year in Mount Dora Florida a city with a population of 13,000 a City Council race ended in a tie of 2,349 votes each. In 2001 two Florida cities decided a tie race by flipping a coin. In Mount Dora a debate took place as to whether another election should be held at a cost of $15,000 or deciding the race by a game of chance. Council members voted 4 to 2 in favor of drawing lots. Concerned citizens file a lawsuit seeking another election instead of drawing lots. In the end the race was decided by picking an envelope out of a felt top hat sitting on a red velvet table containing the names of both candidates.

In New Mexico this year a tied election for county judge was decided through a coin toss. Since 1980 three elections in New Mexico have been determined by a coin toss.

In Cook County Minnesota this year two candidates each received 246 votes for an elected office. It was originally suggested that the candidates draw from a bag with two Scrabble tiles, and the person who picked the “Z” would win. The race was ultimately decided by drawing wooden blocks from a cloth bag. The person who drew the red block won.

In Neptune Beach Florida a local election ended in a tie vote of 1,448. An elaborate three step process was used to decide the election. First the candidates drew names from a bag. The candidate whose name was drawn then had the chance to call a coin toss. The person who won the coin toss then could decide whether to draw first or second from a bag of ping-pong balls, numbered one through 20. The one who drew the lower number won the election.In other words the candidates played three games of chance. Each game provided 50-50 odds to each person. The candidate who lost won two of the games, but because the third game was the only one that mattered, the candidate who won the last game won the election.

Connecticut decided its tied primaries by lot until 2007 when Gov. Jodi Rell signed legislation that replaced coin tosses with another election to be held three weeks later. 

How should we decide tied elections in your opinion? 


  • HapKlein

    I personally think any tied election is the result of concerned citizens who fail to vote. I could never fully trust any of the outcomes described by Mr Wolf of the Florida elections.

    After the Florida fiasco of 2000 when the Supreme Court was selected to end an actual count of votes in Florida and the Republicans on the court selected a careless “Cowboy,” use of the American people as the final deciders of the outcome of elections became very threatened.

    We cannot allow the judiciary to determine elections. Keep them in place to ensure the process is lawful but not the outcome, which must be decided by the people not games of chance.