Tie votes in STAR Voting are rare - well over 10 times less common than with choose-one voting- but as with any voting method they can occur, especially in small demos or elections without many voters.

In most cases, what appear to be ties in STAR voting can be broken by referring back to the ballots themselves:

  1. Ties in the scoring round should be determined in favor of the candidate who was preferred (scored higher) by more voters. If there are only two candidates this will be the majority preferred candidate, if there are multiple tied candidates this will be the candidate(s) preferred over all other candidates. 
  2. Ties in the Runoff Round should be broken in favor of the candidate who was scored higher if possible.
  3. In the event that a tie can not be resolved as above, the election will be called as a tie and broken randomly, unless a further tie breaking procedure was adopted in advance of the election and was publicly disclosed.


The body hosting an election is responsible for establishing fair tie-breaking protocols in advance of the election:

Key considerations for resolving ties:

  • Resolve any simple ties as above if possible.
  • If there are remaining ties, a coin toss or random tiebreaker is a valid option. 
  • If desired, you may want to pick a tie-breaking protocol that is more determinative to help break the tie by referring back to the ballots themselves.
  • Set additional protocols in stone before the election!


True Ties in STAR Voting:

A true tie in STAR Voting is a tie where after referring back to the ballots themselves as described above, there's no one clearcut way to determine which candidate is the stronger choice. These are highly unlikely in real world elections, but are more common in small demo elections. In the event that a true tie arises you can opt to resolve it with a random tiebreaker, or with a more determinative tiebreaker protocol. Tie-breaking protocols include a number of steps that should be conducted in the exact order listed until the tie has been resolved. In some cases the first step will be all that's needed, in other cases more steps will be needed. With any protocol it's possible that the only way to break the tie is through a random selection.


Recommended Tiebreaker Protocol for True Ties:

Five Star Tiebreaker: If an additional tie breaking protocol is desired, elect the candidate who received the most five star votes. 


Additional Information for Election Officials:

What is a preference matrix and how do I create one?

A preference matrix is a chart which shows all the voter preference data from a given election. Unless you are doing a hand count, a matrix can be generated automatically and will usually be available with your election results, depending on the platform.

Creating a preference matrix by hand is just like tallying a STAR election, but with an extra runoff for each pair of candidates:

  • Total the scores given to each candidate in the election.
  • Just like in the STAR runoff, the two highest scoring candidates are selected. Sort the ballots to find how many voters preferred each of those finalists. Ballots are sorted into three stacks: Ballots preferring one finalist, ballots preferring the other, and ballots who gave both the same score and thus have no preference between those two.
  • If you are doing a hand count you will have found your winner and can stop here, completing a full preference matrix is completely optional. In the example below Allison won with 35 points. She was preferred by 8 out of 10 voters, or 80%.
  • To create a full preference matrix, repeat the step above for each pair of candidates, for example, Allison vs Bill, Allison vs Carmen, and so on. Record the number of ballots which preferred each candidate in each head-to-head match in the corresponding box. 


When do I need a matrix and why?

In most elections a full matrix isn't needed. All that is needed to select the winner is to determine the preferences between the two highest scoring candidates.

A preference matrix can be helpful for breaking ties, and is a great reference point for looking at the additional data which can be gleaned in STAR elections.

When ballots are not all tallied centrally, or if ballots will be counted in sets as they come in, creating of matrix for each sub-set of ballots allows each set to be fully tallied on it's own and then be compiled with other sets of ballots later. This is a feature known as summability. Ballot summability means that with STAR Voting local audits and/or partial recounts are possible if needed. Summability is an important requirement for election security and integrity. STAR Voting and most voting methods are summable, but Instant Runoff voting, the type of Ranked Choice widely used around the world, is not.

Preference matrices provide a lot more information beyond who won and lost, so they are often used in data analysis. One advantage of STAR Voting over choose-one is that all of this additional data is available.


What if two or more candidates are tied?

In most cases, what appear to be ties in STAR voting can be broken by referring back to the ballots themselves:

  1. Ties in the Runoff Round should be broken in favor of the candidate who was scored higher if possible.
  2. Ties in the Scoring Round should be broken in favor of the candidate who was preferred head-to-head by more voters (the Condorcet winner if there are multiple tied candidates).
  3. Ties which can be broken as above are known as simple ties and should be broken as above. Ties which can not be broken as above are considered "True Ties."

In the example above we have a tie in the scoring round. Bill and Carmen are tied for 2nd highest scoring candidate with 32 stars each so we'll need to break the tie to determine who should advance to the runoff. Looking at the preference matrix we can determine that Bill is preferred over Carmen, so this is a simple tie that can be easily resolved. Bill advances to the runoff. 

In the runoff, we find that Allison and Bill are both preferred by the same number of voters, 5 each, but looking at the scores we find that Allison was scored higher overall so this is another simple tie that can be easily resolved. Allison wins the election.


What do you do if there is a true tie?

True ties can happen in any voting method, so it is critical to set up a protocol for this in advance and agree upon it. Most organizations which run elections have a protocol in place in their bylaws or charter.

In the example above, Allison, Bill, Carmen, and Doug are all tied for highest scoring with 78 stars each. Looking at the preference matrix we find that there is a three way tie in the runoff as well! Allison is preferred to Bill, Bill to Carmen, and Carmen to Allison. (This is known as a Condorcet cycle.) Doug is not preferred over any of the others so he is not one of the tied candidates.

True ties in elections should be resolved by a tie-breaker chosen and agreed to in advance. Many organizations use a random method like a coin toss. If complexity is not an issue, using an additional tie breaking protocol before resorting to a random tiebreaker is worth considering. 0-5 star ballots contain a lot of information that can be used to break ties in many cases. 


What are Condorcet winners and losers and how do I identify them?

A Condorcet winner is a candidate who in head-to-head match-ups was preferred over every other candidate. A Condorcet loser is a candidate who was not preferred over any of the other candidates. 

You can use a preference matrix to quickly compare any two candidates head-to-head to find Condorcet winners and losers. 

In this election Allison is preferred head-to-head over all other candidates, which makes her the Condorcet winner. Doug is not preferred over any of the others, so he is the Condorcet loser. If Doug was eliminated, then Bill would become the new Condorcet loser.

STAR Voting usually elects the Condorcet winner if there is one. If STAR elects a different winner, it's because determining Condorcet winners only takes into account preference order but doesn't take into account the strength of support (total score) for the candidates.  

STAR Voting finds winners by maximizing both strength of support and number of supporters. 


If you are running an election and have additional questions or would like guidance please email us at [email protected]