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Election Tie? Get Out Pingpong Balls


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Election Tie? Get Out Pingpong Balls


Associated Press Writer

September 4, 2004, 9:49 AM EDT

HONG KONG -- If Hong Kong political candidates finish in a dead heat, the election will be decided by the luck of the draw -- from a bag of numbered pingpong balls.

It may sound more like bingo than politics, but under Hong Kong electoral rules, the tied candidates must each pick a ball at random. Whoever pulls out the highest number takes office.

The last candidate to be defeated by drawing a low number doesn't think too much of the system, but election officials call it fair, cost-effective and in keeping with Hong Kong people's traditional belief in fate.

The prospects of a tie in Hong Kong's Sept. 12 legislative elections may be remote, but officials have stocked up on dozens of pingpong balls just in case, said Registration and Electoral Office spokesman Joseph Wong.

Hong Kong last saw two candidates drawing for lucky numbers in 1999, when Peter Lau and Wan Yee-chung tied in a local council race with 820 votes each in a small suburban district.

Lau drew ball No. 5. Wan beat him with No. 9 and took office.

"I accepted the result with resignation," Lau recently recalled. But he still finds it hard to swallow as a matter of principle.

"I had the support of voters," Lau said. He won four years later with an outright majority.

Some might say a run-off election would be fairer proceed in a system that has full democracy as an eventual goal, but Election Affairs Commission Chairman Woo Kwok-hing disagrees.

Woo calls the tie-breaking method suitable, and he thinks a run-off would not be a good use of taxpayer money.

Woo also said the lucky draw fits the cultural dispositions of Hong Kong, where many of the 6.8 million residents are avid gamblers who believe in fate.

If tied candidates both pick the same number, they draw again until one wins.

"I think Hong Kong people believe in fate," Woo said in a recent radio show. "Drawing lots is believing in fate."

Political scientist Ma Ngok at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology agreed the pingpong balls are a reasonable tiebreaker. He said run-off elections elsewhere traditionally have lower turnouts, a factor that could favor one side.

Copyright © 2004, The Associated Press


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I'm sure there are weirder ways out there. At work, in the County Purchasing Handbook, a tie between bidders can be settled with a coin toss. And I've seen it happen and participated in a couple.


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