What happens when an election is tied?
- Credit: Nick Butcher
After all the debates, claims and counterclaims of a closely fought election campaign, the most important question a candidate might have to answer in this year's poll could well be...heads or tails?
That is because in a situation where the votes are tied and there is no way of determining the victor, the future of the constituency or ward is decided – quite literally – on the toss of a coin.
When all the votes are counted today, candidates for each council seat and their agents are shown the final tally by the returning officer before they are announced.
If the result is close – whether it be between first and second places, or even third and fourth – any one of those standing has a right to ask for a recount until the result is clear.
In many council seats, candidates have agonisingly missed out on a win by a handful of votes.
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But in exceptional circumstances, it is possible that – even after several recounts – two candidates might have recorded exactly the same score.
If that is the case, election rules state that the matter is settled there and then by luck of the draw.
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The Electoral Commission says its guidance suggests the candidates draw lots and gives two examples.
The first is for the returning officer to write the names of the candidates on a slip of paper, put them in envelopes, jumble them up and select the winner.
The second is to put ballots cast for each of the candidates into a jar, shake it and then draw the winner.
The spokesman said their rules do not actually give coin tossing as an example but that it is up to the returning officer and candidates to settle on the method for deciding the election – whether it is by drawing straws or maybe even rock-paper-scissors.
Mark Bee, Conservative agent for Waveney, said there were several stages candidates had to go through before reaching the luck of the draw stage, such as a full rcount or simply checking the bundles of votes stacked up for each candidate.
'It's amazing that votes cast can end up in the wrong place,' he said.
But although he said 'politics as a business is a rough trade', his view is that: 'There's no alternative really.
'You can't re-run the election – the whole decision of who runs a council could be waiting for one seat, and you can't wait for another statutory 35 days before an election is called.'
It may appear to be a very unlikely event – but one cannot rule out the possibility that there may be one candidate who draws the short straw.
How a little bit of luck helped former Labour MP Bob Blizzard's career
It is often said that you need to have a little bit of luck to get on the first step of the ladder in your chosen career.
And for one Labour MP, his political career quite literally started by a luck of the draw.
When standing for political office for the first time in 1987, Mr Blizzard and his Conservative opponent May Reader canvassed furiously in a bid to be elected for the Pakefield ward on Waveney District Council.
It was an election which was literally too close to call, as both candidates incredibly ended up with 1,234 votes each.
Two recounts were held to try and see if there had been some mistake and determine the winner – but the pair were still tied on that figure.
Election rules state that in the unlikely event of a dead heat, candidates have to draw lots to decide who should win.
'Before it happened to me, I didn't know that is how it is decided,' said Mr Blizzard.
'The returning officer said the tossing of a coin involves some element of skill, so instead he got two pieces of paper and put a cross on one.
'The other was blank and he put them in a box. He held it above our heads, we put our hands in the box and pulled out a piece of paper.
Mine had a cross on it, so an extra vote was accredited to me.
'It was a dramatic start to my political career. Who knows what would've happened if I hadn't won.'
Later that day Mr Blizzard walked back into his job as a teacher at East Norfolk Sixth Form College with students clutching copies of the Eastern Daily Press with reports of the remarkable events.
Yet it is sometimes said that you make your own luck in politics – and Mr Blizzard remembers driving one woman to the polling station to vote Labour just minutes before it closed as the vote that sealed the tie.
However, a tiebreaker may not have been needed at all if Mr Blizzard had persuaded that woman's husband to come with her and vote for Labour as well. Unfortunately for Mr
Blizzard, he chose to stay at home.