In what is believed to be a first in an American ranked-choice election, the race for an at-large seat on the Portland City Council ended in a tie and will be decided by drawing lots, city officials said.

School board member Roberto Rodriguez and planning board chairman Brandon Mazer, two of the four candidates for the seat, each received 8,529 votes as a result of the runoff by Election Systems & Software, the city said. Rodriguez had finished first after the initial tally of votes Tuesday, 273 votes ahead of Mazer in a citywide race in which more than 19,000 ballots were cast.

The city said in a news release Wednesday that the winner of the race would be determined Thursday morning through a public process established under city rules. The process states that a tie is decided “by lot,” which the city said is “a method of making a decision or selection by choosing something, often slips of paper, at random.” The candidate selected by lot will be the winner. And the drawing will take place at 10 a.m. Thursday in front of City Hall, the city said.

A hand recount could still be requested, but only after a winner has been named, the city said.

The city charter does not directly address ties in a ranked-choice election, but does allow the city clerk to “adopt additional regulations consistent with this subsection to implement these provisions.” The city’s rules were adopted in 2011 in conjunction with the charter amendments implementing ranked-choice voting.

State law governing statewide ranked-choice elections also calls for ties between last-place candidates to be “decided by lot” – only unlike the city’s rules, the candidate selected by lot loses.

The count was conducted using ranked-choice voting and went to an instant runoff because none of the candidates surpassed the 50 percent threshold needed to win.

COMMON WAY TO DECIDE TIES

Chris Hughes, policy director at the Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center, said Wednesday that over 400 ranked-choice elections have been held in the United States and this is the first one he’s aware of that ended in a tie. That being said, it’s common for election ties to be decided by drawing lots, whether it’s a coin toss, drawing straws or some other sort of random drawing, he said.

Brandon Mazer Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Hughes pointed to a 2017 election in Virginia as an example. In that race, Republican David Yancey was chosen as the winner after his name was drawn out of an artisanal bowl. His win allowed his party to retain control over the House of Delegates, according to National Public Radio.

“Ties in any kind of election are super rare,” Hughes said. “From everything I have seen, ties tend to happen in smaller elections. They don’t tend to happen when there’s like 15,000 votes cast. And every election law I have seen decides ties by lot.”

Mazer said in a statement Wednesday that he’s looking forward to following “the procedures that govern our elections.”

“I deeply appreciate all of the work that everyone has put into helping on this campaign. It’s clear that our campaign’s focus on affordable housing, property taxes, and education resonated with Portland voters,” Mazer said. “While we wait for more information – to everyone that knocked on doors, made phone calls, ranked me on their ballot, or simply said hello during the campaign – thank you so much.”

Roberto Rodriguez Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Rodriguez did not respond Wednesday to a voicemail and text message seeking comment.

The race was so close late Tuesday night that city officials delayed the instant runoff until Wednesday.

Prior to the instant runoff, Rodriguez led the at-large contest with 5,553 votes or just over 29 percent. Mazer had 5,280 votes or nearly 28 percent. Travis Curran had 4,776 votes or 25 percent. And Stuart Tisdale had 3,480 votes or 16.6 percent. About 8 percent of  Portland ballots did not choose any candidates in the at-large race.

The four at-large candidates were seeking to fill outgoing Councilor Nicholas Mavodones’ seat on the council. Curran, 35, is a server and retail manager at Maine Craft Distilling who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2019. Mazer, 35, is an attorney and chairman of the planning board. Rodriguez, 42, owns an urban farming business and is serving his second term on the school board. Tisdale, 68, is an attorney and retired history and government teacher at Cheverus High School.

Tuesday’s election comes at a pivotal stage for Maine’s largest city. None of the three incumbent councilors sought re-election, leaving a third of the council up for grabs.

CITY AT PIVOTAL STAGE

Meanwhile, a charter commission could recommend sweeping changes to city government, including shifting more power to the elected mayor and either demoting or eliminating the city manager position. But those recommendations will not be made until next summer at the earliest and would need voter approval to take effect.

The incoming council will be charged with searching for a new city manager, a job Jon Jennings left Monday after six years to become the next city manger of Clearwater, Florida. Corporation Counsel Danielle West was sworn in as the interim city manager on Tuesday and Associate Corporation Counsel Jennifer Thompson was sworn in as interim corporation counsel.

Even with the at-large race undecided, Tuesday’s results continued a streak of wins for Portland progressives, who passed four citizen referendums last fall that ushered in rent control, a higher minimum wage and a Green New Deal for Portland and strengthened a ban on facial recognition software. Progressives also captured a majority of seats on the charter commission.

In District 2, Victoria Pelletier, a 33-year-old special projects coordinator at the Greater Portland Council of Governments whose focus is on racial equity and economic development, cruised to a decisive win over Jon Hinck, a 67-year-old attorney and former at-large city councilor and state representative. Pelletier, a political newcomer, earned nearly 59 percent of the votes to represent the West End and Parkside.

In District 1, Anna Trevorrow, a 39-year-old medical malpractice paralegal at Norman, Hanson & DeTroy serving her third term on the school board, bested political newcomer Sarah Michniewicz, a self-employed seamstress who has led the Bayside Neighborhood Association for four years. Trevorrow earned 55 percent of the votes to represent the East End, Bayside, the Old Port and islands.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: