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Q: Tied vote in UK general election ( Answered,   7 Comments )
Subject: Tied vote in UK general election
Category: Relationships and Society > Politics
Asked by: been-ga
List Price: $4.50
Posted: 07 May 2002 22:53 PDT
Expires: 07 May 2003 22:53 PDT
Question ID: 13729
In Jeffrey Archer's novel "First Among Equals", two candidates tie in
a UK general election.  A coin is tossed to determine who is elected.

Has this ever happened in real life?  In particular, has any member of
the (UK) House of Commons being elected on the basis of a coin toss,
after a tied vote in a general election?

The closest I have found to an answer is the following

"Since 1945, the smallest margin recorded is two in the case of
Winchester above. Prior to 1997, the closest results were in the
Conservative victory in Peterborough in 1966 and Labour's win in
Carmarthen which in February 1974 - both by three votes.

"In the unlikely event that recounts have failed to separate the two
or more leading candidates, the returning officer is required by law
to settle the matter immediately.

"He or she can use any random method such as tossing a coin, but the
recommended way is to ask each candidate to write their name on a
blank slip of paper and place it in a container.

"The returning officer then pulls out one of the slips and allocates
one extra vote to that candidate, making them the winner by a single

Therefore, such an event, if it occurred at all, must have occurred
before 1945.

I am asking this question to settle a bet, so your answer can be
short.  I do require a definitive yes/no answer though, together with
a reference to a book, reputable web site or suchlike, so that my
friend will pay up!

I'd make this question worth more, but the bet is only worth $5, so
you'll be getting all of it anyway if I win ;-(

Subject: Re: Tied vote in UK general election
Answered By: jon-ga on 08 May 2002 06:02 PDT

What an interesting question you've asked there.

I found an article on the BBC News site about the local elections on
May 2000. The problem here was the Worksop North East seat of
Bassetlaw District Council in Nottinghamshire. Both the Labour and
Conservative candidates got 572 votes each and three recounts failed
to separate them. A coin was tossed and and the Labour candidate won
the seat.

According to the article:

"There are two methods to decide the outcome in the event of a draw -
either a coin is flipped or the parties draw straws. But as the
Conservative candidate was not present at the count, the toss of a
coin decided the outcome."

You can read the article on this page, and this information is located
towards the end:

Even though this is for a local election, the same is true for a
general election. But as it says on the page you mentioned in your
question (

"There has never been a tie in a UK general election and there never
will be."

In theory, the result COULD be decided by a coin toss. There appear to
be differences of opinion as to how the result should be decided, so I
presume it is up to the returning officer to choose the method. I hope
this wins you the bet. If you need any clarification, don't hesitate
to ask.

Best wishes,

Search terms used:
uk election coin toss
Subject: Re: Tied vote in UK general election
From: dynamoo-ga on 08 May 2002 02:04 PDT
I have only ever seen this happen one, and it was done by drawing a
slip out of a box (as described above) in a tied Local Election.

There are several reasons why a returning office would not toss a
coin: one of which is that the occassion of an election count has a
certain dignity that needs to be maintained, also coin-tossing is
unpredictable in that if the coin rolls off somewhere it would get

There are some election guidelines at which state
"Where there is a tie between two or more candidates receiving the
same number of votes the acting returning officer will decide the
result by lot. It is a matter for the acting returning officer to
determine the method to be used." so it is conceivable that a
returning officer could toss a coin.

Also bear in mind that the novel you are referring to was written by
someone currently serving a four-year prison sentence for perjury -
i.e. lying in a court of law - so he's quite capable of making things
up without any foundation in truth.
Subject: Re: Tied vote in UK general election
From: larkspur-ga on 08 May 2002 10:36 PDT
" he's quite capable of making things up without any foundation in truth."

as are most writers of fiction.
Subject: Re: Tied vote in UK general election
From: carnegie-ga on 08 May 2002 18:07 PDT
There was an interesting case in a _local_ council election in the UK
some years ago, in the town of Northampton.  (Unfortunately I have not
been able to trace any record, so this is all from memory.)

Two candidates for the post of councillor polled the same number of
votes.  The returning officer required the candidates to draw lots -
in fact, pepper pots from his pocket - and one candidate was declared

Subsequently, the defeated candidate went to the appropriate court
with the claim that some of the ballot papers which had been rejected
as spoilt were in fact valid and should have been counted for him.  He
was successful and was - some months after the election - declared the

What makes this case interesting is that the decision of the court
changed the political control of the whole council.  There had been
equal party strengths before the court case and the previous control
of the council had been maintained only by the mayor's casting vote. 
With the new councillor replacing the old, party strengths were no
longer equal and the other party took control.

I don't see why a similar scenario couldn't, in principle, occur at a
general election.
Subject: Re: Tied vote in UK general election
From: glyn-ga on 11 May 2002 03:11 PDT
In fact you're asking two questions here: (A) Has there ever been a
tied vote in a general election? (The answer is Yes - see below) and
(B) What is the procedure for resolving such a tie?

Let's take the second question first - how do you resolve tied
elections in the UK.

It's the same procedure for general elections and for local elections
- where it happens more often because the number of votes is lower.
If, after several recounts, there is an equality of votes between the
two leading candidates the Returning Officer (who is the official in
charge of the election) draws a lot to decide which is elected (he
doesn't toss a coin). But this has been the procedure only since 1948.
Before 1948 the rule was that the Returning Officer should have the
casting vote.

Has there ever been a tied vote in a British General Election? Yes, on
several occasions but not recently. Back in the 17th and 18th
centuries it happened quite often because not many people were
eligible to vote so the numbers were low. But the last time it
happened was in Ashton-under-Lyne in 1886 (!). Both J Addison
(Conservative) and A Rowley (Liberal) got 3,049 votes (see how low the
number of voters was) - and the Returning Officer then voted for

In  practice I don't think a modern professional politician would be
happy to have his career decided by drawing lots. It almost happened
back in 1997 in Winchester when John Brown (Conservative and the
current MP) lost to his Liberal opponent by just 2 votes. He then went
to court saying that some of the votes had been spoiled (a bit like
the chad argument in Florida). The court ordered a rerun of the
election and Brown lost again by several thousand votes (the
electorate thought he was a bad loser). The Liberal was elected again
and she is still there with an even bigger majority.
Subject: Re: Tied vote in UK general election
From: glyn-ga on 11 May 2002 03:16 PDT
I see you wanted a link to a reputable book or weblink to confirm
this. I based my answer largely on "Elections in Britain Today" by D
Leonard, and also on "British Parliamentary Election Results 1885 -
1918" by F Craig.
Subject: Re: Tied vote in UK general election
From: dedicto-ga on 03 Apr 2003 05:36 PST
Tossing a coin, drawing straws  . . . and cutting a pack of cards.

In both 1988 and 1992, the Labour party and the Tories each won 10
seats on Striling District Council.  Control of the administration was
decided by cutting a pack of cards:  in 1988, the Tories drew the two
of spades, but Labour won with the seven of clubs -- and Jack
McConnell (now First Minister of Scotland) became council leader; in
1992, the Tories won the cut.
Subject: Re: Tied vote in UK general election
From: dedicto-ga on 03 Apr 2003 05:37 PST
oops . . . that should say Stirling, not Striling.

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