Brandon Mazer emerged as the winner of an at-large Portland City Council seat on Thursday in what is believed to be the first ranked-choice election in the United States to end in a tie and be decided by a game of chance.

Outside City Hall, Portland City Clerk Kathy Jones drew a name from an antique wooden bowl that she had brought from home to decide who would win the seat in the four-way race. The drawing of lots came after an instant runoff resulted in a tie between the top two finishers, Mazer and Roberto Rodriguez, who each received 8,529 votes.

The city will conduct a manual recount of more than 21,000 ballots next week.

A crowd of more than 100 people came out to see the winner be chosen.

Shortly after the drawing, Mazer, a 35-year-old attorney and planning board chairman, said he was looking forward to serving the city and that he expected and supported a full recount.

“I fully respect that and it will show the true voice of the voters,” Mazer said. “We made history today and it was incredibly exciting and we will follow the process as needed.”


According to runoff results provided by the city, there were 4,226 “inactive ballots” during the final round of counting. Jones said those were exhausted ballots, meaning that the voter did not rank either Rodriguez or Mazer.

In the initial vote count Tuesday night, before the instant runoff, Rodriguez received 273 more first-place votes than second-place finisher Mazer.

Rodriguez requested a recount on Thursday and predicted that he would emerge as the winner.

“There’s going to be a recount,” Rodriguez said. “We’re going to make sure every vote is counted. I had a lead after the first round. I believe once we have a recount, we will solidify that lead and I will come out victorious.”

Rodriguez, a 42-year-old school board member and urban farming business owner who was favored by progressive groups, said he was not concerned that the instant runoff was not conducted publicly. He said he is confident that the election is being conducted in accordance to the rules, though he hopes the rule about settling a tie by drawing lots will be changed.

“I was immediately grateful we have a charter commission in place that is looking at this as we speak,” he said. “But I want to be very clear, I 100 percent believe that ranked-choice voting worked out the way it was intended to and we’re following the policy that governs in the case of a tie.”



The city said the manual recount of more than 21,000 ballots, including the exhausted ballots, will take place on Tuesday, from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., at the Ocean Gateway. The recount could continue on Wednesday if necessary.

This will be the second recount in the last year. Last November, the People First Portland campaign requested a recount after one of its four referendums lost by less than 1 percent. That recount took place in the Portland Expo and it took nearly two days to hand count more than 39,000 ballots. In the end, the recount confirmed that the measure was defeated and the vote margin grew from 222 to 273.

Ties in elections are rare, but they are even more unusual in ranked-choice elections, where candidates must receive a majority of votes to win.

Portland implemented ranked choice voting in 2011. In addition to adding the voting method to the city charter, the city clerk was charged with adopting additional rules to run the elections. To break ties, the rules say “the City Clerk shall determine the winner in public by lot.” The rules do not add specificity, but the city suggested that the winner would be determined by a random drawing, rather than a coin toss.

At just about 10 a.m. Thursday morning, Elections Administrator Paul Riley took two small envelopes out of a larger manila envelope and handed them to the candidates. Inside were cards with their names on them. They were asked to fold them in half and put them in the bowl, which Riley swirled around without looking. Jones, whose back had been turned during the swirling, then pulled a card from the bowl.


“We have pulled Mazer, Brandon J., ” she announced as some in the crowd cheered.

It was a highly unusual event in a ranked-choice election.

Over 400 ranked-choice elections have been held in the United States, said Chris Hughes, policy director of the Ranked Choice Voting Center, and this is the first one he’s aware of that ended in a tie.

“From everything I have seen, ties tend to happen in smaller elections,” he said. “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.”

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.



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.

Tuesday’s election came 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.

The 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.

The two district seats on the city council up for grabs in this election were captured by candidates who were endorsed by progressive groups. Anna Trevorrow, a 39-year-old medical malpractice paralegal serving her third term on the school board, captured District 1, which includes the East End, and 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, captured District 2, which includes the West End.

Mazer, who ran as a moderate and was backed by Mayor Kate Snyder, said waiting for the results of the drawing was heart-pounding.

“My heart was just racing,” he said. “It comes down to a folded piece of paper, and I’m incredibly proud of the campaign we ran. This truly shows that every vote matters.”

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