Election Day Toolkit: Prepared for a Tie


It’s a pretty big “What if…?”

Maybe not in the case of the 50th Senate District, where incumbent Republican John DeFrancisco is being challenged by an un-Google-able Carol Mulcahy. But in the case of the race between Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama for president, it’s a pretty big “What if…?”

What if there’s a tie vote for any of the election races this Nov. 4?

The Constitution says a tie vote in the race for president is broken by Congress. But anything farther down the election ladder is up to the states to figure out for themselves. In New York, it comes down to the town councils to decide which way a local race goes.

Every town, village or city has a charter that explains the rules to be followed if a tie occurs in local elections, said Pat Campion, a public information officer at the New York State Board of Elections.  Each charter could potentially have a different solution to the problem. But typically a tie will default to the town council.

“What normally happens is that there’s a process in place, where you have a town council with members from both parties,” Campion said. “They represent the different town districts. They’re in charge of voting for the candidate. That’s usually where it ends.”

Another hypothetical is raised there: What if a town council is evenly split?

Usually charters will have another provision in case that happens. In some cases the race will go back to the people to be voted on again. “There is probably a provision that if everything else fails, it goes to a special election. But they avoid that because of logistics, cost and so forth,” Campion said.

In the case of a tie vote in New York primaries, the party committee last elected gets to vote to break the tie, according to New York State Election Law.

For the top two federal office, the Twelfth Amendment of the Constitution say that if candidates receive the same number of electoral votes, then the House of Representatives decides the president and the Senate decides the vice president. Congress will only consider the top three finishers, and a candidate needs a simple majority to win. Each state in the House gets one vote, and each senator gets one vote.

(Susanna McElligott is a dual major in newspaper journalism and art history)


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