Luck Of The Draw? Games Of Chance Not Uncommon In Deciding Tied Elections
Updated at 11:51 a.m. ET on Jan. 4
A pivotal Virginia legislative race — and control of the entire House of Delegates — came down to the luck of the draw on Thursday.
Initially, it seemed as though Democrat Shelly Simonds had won last month's election by just one vote after a Dec. 19 recount. Then, Republican incumbent David Yancey successfully challenged one ballot, which led to an exact tie. The Virginia State Board of Elections had planned a drawing to pick the winner, but Simonds filed a legal challenge against the ballot that had deadlocked the contest.
On Jan. 3, a court rejected Simonds' challenge over the disputed ballot, meaning the race remained tied and allowing the drawing to determine the winner of the Newport News seat to move forward. Thursday morning, Yancey won the tie-breaker; Republicans now hang on to control of the chamber.
The names of the candidates were placed in two film canisters and then placed in a bowl to be drawn. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, "The receptacle chosen for a starring role in the drama will be a blue-and-white, handcrafted bowl made by Steven Glass, a Richmond-based artist who serves as the resident potter at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts." A museum spokesman said the bowl was "very pretty and sort of rustic" and that "it looks like a lot of love went into making it."
Using games of chance to resolve tied elections may seem like a flippant way of deciding such important contests, but it's nothing out of the ordinary in many states or localities.
In 2014, the Washington Post found that 35 states used some type of coin toss, drawing or other means to determine a tied election. Oklahoma has the same process Virginia will use — drawing names of the two candidates by an elections official.
In Idaho, there's a coin toss.
In North Carolina, if fewer than 5,000 people vote, elections officials cast lots to determine the winner — or otherwise they can call another election.
In Indiana and Montana, the state legislatures determine the winner if there's a tie for governor.
Most ties occur at the state and local level, where there are smaller pools of voters, and recently there have been some interesting ways to pick winners in case of deadlock:
Coin flips determined winners in the already quirky Iowa caucuses last year when some Democratic sites ended up split evenly between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. But as NPR's Domenico Montanaro reported, both candidates ended up winning tiebreakers at certain precincts, and games of chance weren't responsible for Clinton's narrow victory in the Hawkeye State.
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