On the BBC Wales news feed today for the local elections it was reported that in three separate councils had candidates with an equal number of votes after a recount - so they drew lots (pulled pieces of paper at from a box) to decide who was elected.

As shown in this tweet by Hywel Trewyn (video included):

In a tied vote both with 132 returning officer Dilwyn Williams settles matter by picking out Richard Hughes beating Plaid's John Wynn Jones

This strikes me as a very random way to resolve the democratic process. What other options are available and used in other democracies?

  • can you define "they drew lots"? Commented May 5, 2017 at 14:07
  • the exact method seems unclear, but the images show the candidates pulling bits of paper from the election box. One of them is pictured holding a piece of paper with a cross on it
    – Phil
    Commented May 5, 2017 at 14:10
  • Not really an example of an election but the Iowa Democratic caucus in 2016 also ended up with some ties which were resolved with a (digital) coin toss using the party's smartphone app.
    – Panda
    Commented May 5, 2017 at 14:38
  • Assuming this is likely to become a community based list of methods: It's not a direct election, but which choosing the EU president, ties are broken with the oldest tying candidate winning: europarl.europa.eu/sipade/rulesleg8/Rulesleg8.EN.pdf
    – origimbo
    Commented May 5, 2017 at 15:17

3 Answers 3


Typically it's resolved by something random. Recently an Illinois village settled a tied election with a coin flip

An Illinois village is poised to choose its new leader with the flip of a coin after the election for village president ended with both candidates tied at 11 votes.

There are some other methods as well

It's one of the weirder traditions of American democracy: In many states, if a race is tied, a "game by lot" -- cards, straws, or most often, a coin toss -- determines who goes to the house and who goes home. Months of campaigning, committee assignments, the fortunes of careers, the possibility of political change -- it all comes down, like possession in a football game, to heads or tails.

Thankfully it's almost always amicable. That article also makes the following note about Kentucky law

A duel is expressly forbidden by the state's constitution.


It seems that this is very common as a tie-breaker. Examples:

Remarkably, the French constitution Title II, Article 7 does not even consider the possibility that the run-off election between two candidates could be tied ...

Is there anything inherently bad about drawing lots as opposed to, say, repeating the election? Just consider that a tie in a sufficiently large election (that is, involving ten thousand if not millions of voters) is extremely unlikely to occur. But if it occurs, then the majority is extremely sensitive to minuscle changes. In fact, per one million voters, we can expect that one of them dies every hour. So the tie might be broken one hour after the election ends simply by changed demography. But that also means that a close win by a single vote might have turned into a tie if the election had ended one hour earlier or later ... So if the result in a situation that makes a tie possible is essentially random anyway - why not draw lots for tie.breaking in the first place?

Also note that drawing lots without prior elections and ties was once considered the most democratic of all methods to determine office holders!


As the question states, this is not uncommon in UK local elections, but has never happened in a UK general election. This article suggests that, due to the greater numbers, it is very, very unlikely to ever happen.

Nonetheless, it if were to happen, the same procedure would apply.

The article also mentions that if there is a dispute over the validity of the result, the losing candidate can take the matter to court, and the court can order a by-election.

  • There was actually a tie in the 1886 UK General Election (Ashton-under-Lyne). "Both candidates having received 3,049 votes each, Addison was elected on the Returning Officer's casting vote."
    – user2212
    Commented Jun 16, 2017 at 9:37

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