Analysis

One Vote Can Make a Difference

Candidates and election officials can face challenges in persuading citizens that their vote matters. But the number of November 2014 contests that resulted in a tie or were decided by just one or two votes shows that, particularly in local races, every vote counts:

Pulling from a hat (or grocery bag)

  • In Mount Dora, Florida, a tied City Council race was resolved when the challenger’s name was pulled from a hat.
  • In Washington, two Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) races ended in a tie, the first ties in the city in at least 25 years. The races were resolved when an unbiased third party—a member of the city’s Commission on Human Rights—selected envelopes from a reusable grocery bag under the supervision of the director of elections. At least one other ANC race was decided by one vote.

Colored blocks

  • A tied race in Cook County, Minnesota, was decided when the candidates chose colored blocks—one red, one blue—from a cloth bag; the candidate with the red block was declared the winner. Initially, the plan was to use Scrabble tiles, with “Z” designating the winner, but colored blocks won out.

Coin flips

All of the above

  • In Neptune Beach, Florida, the tiebreaker for a City Council race was fairly elaborate: First, a judge drew names from a hat to determine which candidate would call a coin toss. Then, a second judge flipped a coin to determine the order in which the candidates would pull a numbered pingpong ball from a bag. And finally, the candidate with the higher numbered ball was declared the winner. It took six minutes and three games of chance.

Nobody voted

  • A race in Hagerman, New Mexico, may be the ultimate example of “any vote would make a difference.” In the town school board election, three candidates ran unopposed; none received a vote, in part because the closest polling location was 26 miles away, in Roswell. Because none of the candidates was an incumbent, each needed at least one vote to win. The school board has since appointed all three candidates to the board.

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