Electoral Tiebreaking by Lottery

A recent article on electoral tiebreaking by lottery. Like a lot of these articles (at least, those that don’t regard lotteries as some kind of communist plot), it takes essentially the Churchillian position–a coin toss is the worst way to break a tie, except for all the others:

When a State Election Can Be Literally Determined by a Coin Toss

It’s one of the weirder traditions of American democracy: In many states, if a race is tied, a “game by lot” — cards, straws, or most often, a coin toss — determines who goes to the house and who goes home. Months of campaigning, committee assignments, the fortunes of careers, the possibility of political change — it all comes down, like possession in a football game, to heads or tails.

Allowing chance to enter the core of a democratic system seems counterintuitive, although it’s widely recognized today as an electoral tiebreak. In fact, the roots of election by lottery stretch back to ancient Athens. (Modern-day Americans aren’t the first people to be wary of the method; it was also used by sorcerers to predict the future. “Sorcery” comes from the Latin sors, meaning “lot.”) More recently, coin tosses have broken ties in New York, Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, Missouri, Washington, Florida, Minnesota and New Hampshire. South Dakota and Arizona have used card games. In Virginia, the winner has been chosen from a hat.