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How Massachusetts and other states settle tied elections

Posted by Alan Wirzbicki  February 12, 2011 10:08 AM

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Sorry, poker fans: a central Massachusetts election that ended in a tie last year won't be settled with a hand of five-card draw, but instead with an entirely new election, state lawmakers determined this week.

Incumbent state Representative Geraldo Alicea, Democrat of Charlton, and Peter Durant, a Spencer Republican, both got exactly 6,587 votes in the race to represent the 6th Worcester district. A judge ruled earlier this month that the seat must now be filled with a new election.

Under a plan worked out by the state Legislature this week in response to the judge's ruling, new Democratic and Republican primaries will be held in the five towns included in the district on April 12, with a general election following on May 10.

Many other states opt for more slapdash (and cheaper) ways to deal with ties, such as with a coin flip, a roll of the dice, or, yes, hand of poker. During the 2000 Florida recount, CNN reported that if the official tally there had ended in a tie, the state's electoral votes — and thus the presidency of the United States — would have been determined by drawing lots.

Massachusetts state law, however, allows for no such shortcuts, said Brian McNiff, a spokesman for Secretary of State William Galvin.

"There's a provision for a special election when there is a failure to elect, which is what happened here," he said. The state will pay for the ballots, and towns in the district pay to open the polling places.

McNiff said that while turnout for such special elections is often low, the publicity around the tie vote could end up pushing up participation. And he shrugged off comparisons to other states.

"There's a lot of things we do differently here," he said.

Globe photos: Geraldo Alicea (right) and Peter Durant (left) tied in last November's election to represent the 6th Worcester district.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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