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What Happens When An Election Is Tied In Texas?

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez

An election in Virginia was decided this morning by luck. Luck of the draw, specifically. The race between Republican David Yancey and Democrat Shelly Simonds for the Virginia House of Delegates was tied after a recount. So, today the State Board of Elections put their names in a bowl and pulled out the name of the winner: incumbent Yancey.

The news around this unorthodox way to pick an elected official got the KUT Newsroom wondering: What would happen if there were a tie in Texas?

There are two different constitutional rules for how to resolve an electoral tie. The first is for general state races, like the Texas House and Senate. If a race ends in a tie, an automatic recount is done. If the race is still a tie, a second election is held. If there’s a tie after that second election, then the two parties will “cast lots” to pick the final winner. (Both parties can also agree to “cast lots” instead of holding a second election.)

You may be wondering what it means to “cast lots.” According to Wikipedia, it’s a form of cleromancy. You may now be wondering what cleromancy is. It’s a form of selection where the outcome is determined in a random manner, such as by rolling dice, or like we saw in Virginia, pulling a name out of a bowl.

And using the phrase “casting of lots” instead of “random drawing” or “drawing names” harkens back to biblical times. There are several references to casting lots in the Bible. It was even how Roman soldiers decided who won Jesus’ clothes when they crucified him. Modern definitions point to casting lots as being a way to reveal the will of God, or other supernatural entities.

But I digress.

The second type of tied race involves executive offices as defined by the Texas Constitution: governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, land commissioner and attorney general.

If one of those races ends in a tie, a joint vote of the Texas House and Senate determines who wins. So subtract the luck, pile on the politics, and BAM you’ve got a winner.

Have there been any ties in Texas? Well, here in Travis County we had a race for Texas House that came down to four votes. Democratic incumbent Donna Howard was beating GOP challenger Dan Neil by 16 votes on election night in 2010. A recount lowered that to 12 votes.

Then Neil challenged the election in the Texas House. That triggered an internal investigation by an appointed House member (the Master of Discovery) to look into Neil’s claims of illegal votes. Once he was done, the Master lowered the winning margin to four for Howard.

If you want a closer race, you could look back to 1902. After three Democratic conventions with more than 7,000 votes, the party drew a name out of a hat to be the party’s nominee for a Texas congressional district.

So, when you hear a politician say every vote counts, it certainly could.

Copyright 2020 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Ben Philpott covers politics and policy for KUT 90.5 FM. He has been covering state politics and dozens of other topics for the station since 2002. He's been recognized for outstanding radio journalism by the Radio and Television News Directors Association, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated, the Texas Associated Press Broadcasters and twice by the Houston Press Club as Radio Journalist of the Year. Before moving to Texas, he worked in public radio in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, Ala., and at several television stations in Alabama and Tennessee. Born in New York City and raised in Chattanooga, Tenn., Philpott graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in broadcast journalism.