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Natick not first town to deal with electoral tie

Posted by John C. Drake April 25, 2007 11:07 AM

NATICK

A tie in a town election? It may not be as unlikely as it seems.

The two candidates for town moderator in Natick tied in the March 27 election, with each man receiving 1,772 votes.

Elections observers in the state said in a story in today's Globe that they could not remember a previous election that ended in a tie and said, while certainly possible, it would have to be a very rare occasion.

MIT computer science professor David Karger says in an e-mail to the Globe today that the likelihood of a tie in Natick, given the town's recent voter turnout, is about 1-in-75.

"Since candidates nowadays tend to do a pretty good job of splitting the vote, it seems reasonable to
assume that each voter is equally likely to vote for each candidate, as if they were tossing a fair coin," he said. "Under these circumstances, assuming I've done my math right, the probability of a tie among 3,544 voters is about 1 in 75. So, those voters had better plan for another tie sometime in their lifetimes."

But has it happened before? It has.

Swansea reader Patrick Higgins points out that residents in the town split 984-984 in a vote for a selectman during their April 9 election. But that's still preliminary. A recount is set for this week in that town.

In 2002, a tie in a Milton School Committee race was broken when a Superior Court judge threw out a single ballot that she ruled had been improperly included in the tally.

And there are more historical examples.

In 1991, a tie in a Quincy School Committee race was broken by a combined vote of the City Council and the School Committee, according to a Globe story.

An Arlington reader remembers a tie in a selectman's race there that was settled in court some 30 years ago.

Nevertheless, considering the thousands of positions up for grabs each year in elections in Massachusetts' 351 communities, a tie remains clearly a rare occurrence.

-- John C. Drake

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