Flip a coin, don’t recount, revote, and litigate

Votes for Washington state governor cast in November have now been counted three times. One candidate won the first two counts (first by 261 votes, then 42) , the other won the second recount by 129 votes. Dino Rossi (Republican), the candidate who won the first two counts, wants a revote and is threatening litigation. Christine Gregoire (Democrat), who won the second recount, says a revote would waste $4 million, according to Rossi urges revote to fix “mess” in the Seattle Times.

Why re-count, re-vote, or litigate over same at all? Change whatever rule determines that a recount is necessary to mandate a coin flip instead of a recount.

It turns out that many people have suggested flipping a coin in this election and in the past (e.g., Ralph Nader on Florida in 2000), including several stories and columns from the Seattle Times, but I don’t gather that anyone is seriously considering the option. “Counting every vote” is too sacred.

However, “counting every vote” is itself subject to random errors. If an election is close enough for a recount, the recount won’t necessarily be any more accurate than a coin flip.

Apparently many jurisdictions allow flipping a coin or drawing lots to determine the winner of close elections in low-stakes contests. Given that recounts are no more accurate than coin flips, chance should be allowed to determine the outcome of any close election, especially “high stakes” elections, as those will be the most costly to recount, revote, and litigate.

I’d be happy to replace most elections entirely with random selection, which in my view would be far more democratic and far less costly than the current system.

5 Responses

  1. Ken MacLeod gave a delicious rant to a character in Dark Light:

    “Drawing lots is fair, even if it sometimes
    throws up a freak result. With elections you’re actually building the
    minority problem right in at every level, and lots more with it -
    parties, money, fame, graft, just for starters. What chance would that leave ordinary people, what chance would we have of being heard or of making a difference? Elections are completely undemocratic, they’re downright antidemocratic. Everybody knows that!”

    See also Barry Gold’s suggestion.

  2. Love the MacLeod rant, have to ding Gold’s for lack of seriousness — the subject should be taken seriously.

  3. Perhaps I’ll rewrite it sometime.

  4. It occurs to me that sortition should weaken the cult of the state (or at least slow its growth) by emphasizing that state action is necessarily arbitrary.

  5. [...] Flip a coin, don’t recount, revote, and litigate is too busy being annoyed at the (error-prone) recounting of “every vote” to have bothered imaginging improving recounting (by not usually requiring counting “every vote”!) and the integrity of elections generally. [...]

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