More than two dozen residents turned out last night for a report on possible solutions if a tie vote were to occur again in a New Windsor election -- as it did in May for the first time in the town's 155 years.
Had the town held a run-off election, it could have been sued -- and would have lost -- because there is no provision in its charter for another election, said Neal M. Janey, a municipal law expert who was asked to research the situation.
Last night, Janey outlined the report prepared after the town election May 11 produced a tie for one of three open council seats.
"You should give consideration to amending the charter," he said.
Janey said he found that 62 municipalities in Maryland, about 40 percent, have a provision for tie votes. The state decrees that the General Assembly would choose the governor in the event of a tie, the governor would choose the attorney general, and the judges of a circuit would choose the state's attorney.
Thirteen states have a general statute that covers municipal elections, Janey said.
"How do you think most states deal with this? The answer might surprise you," he said. "Throughout the United States, the predominant method to resolve a tie vote is by lot: Someone flips a coin or pulls a straw out of a hat."
With no state law to cover the New Windsor election, Janey and other legal experts studied court decisions dating from 1911. They advised the mayor and council that a tie meant no victor and the position was vacant -- allowing an appointment under the town charter.
In a 3-1 vote, the town council named incumbent Councilman Paul Garver to the seat.
Janey said his study of Maryland municipalities that have provisions to break a tie found eight different ways. These include having the winner chosen by the town council, as New Windsor did, and by lot.
Other methods provide for a new election, with variations ranging from elections in which anyone could vote -- or run for office -- to limited run-offs, in which only the original voters and the tied candidates would participate, he said. Then there are questions of whether voting should be by mail or in person at the next regular council meeting.
A few of the residents' questions and comments to Janey indicated dissatisfaction that their votes were wasted and questioned why the mayor and council were allowed to choose the council member. A few said they would prefer a coin toss to the way the tie was handled.
The problem, Janey repeated throughout the hour-long meeting, lies in the specific procedures required to amend the town charter.
"The information is here for you to study, to decide which option you want to adopt for this town," he said of his report. "All you have to do is follow procedure: Put it in your charter, and that's it. If the issue comes up sometime in your future, that's it."