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I guess I have understood the mechanism of ranked choice voting, except for one detail: what happens if two candidates have exactly the same least number of first choices and the same exact numbers of secondary, tertiary, etc choices, at whatever step. I realize that this scenario is unlikely, but it's not impossible.

Being interested in the current New York City primary elections, I'd like to know if the eventuality of "a tie at the bottom" is contemplated in the rules of the election.

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  • 1
    I don't know the specific rules for New York so I am not making this an answer but in elections where I live multiple candidates can be eliminated in the same round, if two people were tied for last place they would both be eliminated. This doesn't apply if someone would otherwise be elected (for example, the last two candidates are tied). Probably, having exhausted all recounts, there would need to be another election. As far as I know this has never happened.
    – Eric Nolan
    Jun 24 at 16:19
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    Many places have laws which say that if an election is tied after everything is settled, then it's random - flip a coin, draw lots, etc. (See here for one example.) Whether NYC has anything like that, I don't know.
    – Bobson
    Jun 24 at 21:01
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This is a bit tricky; Section 1057-g of the New York City Charter contains the following provision:

  • e. For all ranked choice elections, the following tabulation procedures apply:
    1. If a candidate receives a majority of highest rank votes, that candidate shall be declared the nominee of his or her party for a primary election, or declared the elected winner for an election for which nominations were made by independent nominating petitions.
    2. If no candidate receives a majority of highest rank votes, tabulation shall proceed in rounds. In each round, the number of votes for each continuing candidate shall be counted; each continuing ballot shall count as one vote for its highest ranked continuing candidate for that round; and exhausted ballots shall not be counted for any continuing candidate. A round ends with one of the following outcomes:
      • (a) If there are two continuing candidates, the candidate with the most votes shall be declared the nominee of his or her party for a primary election, or elected winner for an election for which nominations were made by independent nominating petitions.
      • (b) If there are more than two continuing candidates, the last place candidate shall be eliminated and a new round shall begin; provided, however, that batch elimination shall occur at the same time as such elimination of the last place candidate, unless such batch elimination would result in only one continuing candidate, in which case no such batch elimination shall occur.
    3. A tie between two or more candidates shall be resolved in accordance with the election law.

The election law this refers to is New York State's - there are a few provisions in here for tied votes; in the case of a primary election, for example, a vacancy is created and may be filled by a majority vote of that party's committee (§ 6-148). This doesn't necessarily need to be one of the candidates that received a tied vote; in 2018 for example, Jeffrey M. Kurzon was nominated to contest the 7th Congressional District for the Reform Party after the top two candidates in the primary received 17 votes each. Kurzon didn't even participate in the primary itself.

However, I believe the provision in the New York City Charter refers to a tie at the last stage of the tabulation - e.g. if the only remaining candidates all have the same number of votes. This is because the Rank Choice Voting: Manual Canvass Procedures published by the New York City Board of Elections and effective since February 9th 2021 gives the following procedure for elimination during the tabulation:

  1. Determine which box, other than Exhausted has the lowest number of ballots. The Candidate (or Write-in box) with the lowest number of ballots is eliminated and their ballots are moved to the Staging Table.

    If there is a tie between the lowest two candidates, there will be a coin toss to declare which Box is eliminated. The Commissioner’s [sic] or their designees will assign HEADS to one Candidate Box and TAILS to the other Candidate Box. A coin is flipped and the Candidate Box assigned to the side of the coin facing up is eliminated.
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  • My question received an unexpected attention, your answer was undeservedly ignored… that's life! I think that the paragraph no.5 that you quoted is a definitive answer to my perplexity. I love how they detailed the procedure for the coin toss. ፨ Thank you.
    – gboffi
    Jul 2 at 6:36
  • @gboffi it's an interesting question, definitely deserves the attention :)
    – CDJB
    Jul 2 at 7:48

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