facebook linkedin twitter

[SHORTENED] When Coin Flips and Other Games of Chance Settle Tied Elections

February 25, 2020 by Dan McCue
(Photo: The International City/County Management Association)

It was an unusual way to spend a Thursday morning in January to say the least. Though the 2017 House of Delegates election was for the most part in its rear view mirror, the Virginia State Board of Elections had gathered for its closing act.

Also in the room were two candidates, Republican David Yancey and Democrat Shelly Simonds, their families, attorneys, and a smattering of interested bystanders.

What they had come for was to see who would win the race to represent the Virginia’s 94th District: Yancey, the incumbent, or Simonds, the challenger.

Unfortunately, the voters in the district hadn’t been much help, splitting their votes 11,608-to- 11,608, and leaving the election in a tie.

Now, the fates of Yancey and Simonds, not to mention that of the state legislature, would be decided by the drawing of a name from a ceramic bowl.

Despite the fact we live in an age of big money politics and expansive campaign organizations, deciding the outcome of an election by random chance isn’t all that rare an occurrence in American politics.

In fact, a number of states and communities across the nation have long standing tie-breaking rules and rituals to settle deadlocked elections and they rely on everything from a coin flip to the drawing of straws to the name drawn from a bowl (or other receptacle) as is practiced in Virginia.

Although there has yet to be a presidential race settled in such a fashion, examples in down-ballot races abound.

For instance, in 2006, a Democratic primary for a state House seat in Alaska was decided by the toss of a commemorative coin that depicted walruses on the heads side of the coin and the Alaska state seal on the tails side. Today, the winner of that coin toss is speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives.

In November 2013, a coin toss determined the winner of the mayoral race in the Idaho town of Albion, and in 2018. Coin flips decided who would be mayor of Magnolia, Ohio, and which of two write-in candidates would prevail in a city council race in Crescent Springs, Kentucky.

But coin flips are by no means the only game of random chance employed to settle elections

In 2002, a seat on the Esmeralda County Commission in Nevada was decided after the county clerk-treasurer shuffled a deck and fanned the cards out on a table like a casino dealer. Both candidates drew jacks, but the Democrat’s spade beat out the Republican’s diamond.

In 2015, two Mississippi House candidates broke a tie by reaching into a red canvas bag and pulling out a silver-plated business card box engraved with the state’s name. The winner drew the box with a longer straw in it.

While most tiebreakers are the essence of simplicity — the toss of a coin or drawing of a name — once in awhile things get a little … elaborate.

Perhaps the best example of this is what happened in Neptune Beach, Florida in 2014. To settle a tied city council race, Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland, decreed that the name of one of the two candidates — either incumbent Richard Arthur or challenger Rory Diamond — be drawn from a hat.

The winner of the drawing then got to call heads or tails during a coin toss.

But wait, there’s more.

The winner of the coin toss then decided whether to go first or second in a random drawing of ping pong balls, numbered 1 to 20, from a cloth bag.

Arthur pulled a No. 12 ping pong ball out of a bag. Diamond drew a No. 4 ball. Arthur, with the highest number, was named the winner.

The drawing in the Yancey and Simonds race in Virginia was decided by tie-breaking procedures laid out in a 1705 Virginia law.

Both candidates’ names were placed in film canisters inside a blue and white ceramic bowl made by Steven Glass, a local artist.

In the end, Yancey’s name was drawn, and he was declared the new representative.

The random drawing had major repercussions on governing in Virginia. With Yancey’s win, Republicans maintained a slim 51-49 majority in the House. If Simonds had won, the two major parties would have had to share power.

On Nov. 5, 2019, the Democrats gained control of the Virginia House of Delegates the old fashioned way, by securing a 55-45 member majority at the polls.

Elections

September 17, 2021
by Dan McCue
Virginia Voters Begin Heading to the Polls

Early in-person voting in Virginia’s general election began Friday morning, the start of a 45-day period in which those registered... Read More

Early in-person voting in Virginia’s general election began Friday morning, the start of a 45-day period in which those registered to do so can cast ballots for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, the House of Delegates and in local races. Those wishing to vote early can... Read More

September 15, 2021
by Dan McCue
Cleveland Mayoral Contest Now Down to Two

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- After months of campaigning in a crowded field, two finalists emerged Tuesday night as the voters’ potential... Read More

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- After months of campaigning in a crowded field, two finalists emerged Tuesday night as the voters’ potential choice to become Cleveland's next mayor.  Justin Bibb, chief strategy officer with technology firm Urbanova, garnered 27.1% of the mayoral primary vote, while Cleveland City Council... Read More

September 15, 2021
by Dan McCue
Boston Voters Send Moderate, Progressive to November Showdown for Mayor

BOSTON, Mass. -- Michelle Wu, an Asian American progressive and Annissa Essaibi George, a moderate, appear to be the last... Read More

BOSTON, Mass. -- Michelle Wu, an Asian American progressive and Annissa Essaibi George, a moderate, appear to be the last candidates left standing after Tuesday’s preliminary mayoral election in Boston, and will now face each other in November when the city definitively chooses its next mayor.... Read More

September 14, 2021
by Dan McCue
Boston Voters to Choose Next Mayor from Most Diverse Candidate Pool Ever

BOSTON, Mass. -- Voters in Boston are casting their ballots for mayor on Tuesday, choosing from the most diverse mayoral... Read More

BOSTON, Mass. -- Voters in Boston are casting their ballots for mayor on Tuesday, choosing from the most diverse mayoral slate in the city’s fabled history. The Sept. 14 vote, of course, is just the city’s preliminary mayoral election, intended to pare the field down from... Read More

Allegations Fly as Recall Vote Looms for California's Newsom

LOS ANGELES (AP) — In a blitz of TV ads and a last-minute rally, California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom urged... Read More

LOS ANGELES (AP) — In a blitz of TV ads and a last-minute rally, California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom urged voters Sunday to turn back a looming recall vote that could remove him from office, while leading Republican Larry Elder broadly criticized the media for what... Read More

September 10, 2021
by Dan McCue
Hurricane Ida Disrupts Fall Election Plans in Louisiana

BATON ROUGE, La. - Gov. John Bel Edwards signed an executive order on Thursday delaying the state’s fall elections from... Read More

BATON ROUGE, La. - Gov. John Bel Edwards signed an executive order on Thursday delaying the state’s fall elections from Oct. 9 to Nov. 13 in response to damage caused by Hurricane Ida.  Nov. 13 was the date originally scheduled for any runoff elections. Under the... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top