Opinion

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Like I Was Saying

Write-ins and Tiebreakers

Thousands of elections for various councils, commissions and boards are held each year, so inevitably some of the results are extraordinarily close, and even seem a little strange

The old saying, “every vote counts,” took on new meaning in Laurel recently when a man who wasn’t even on the ballot became a city councilor.

Richard Klose was as surprised as anyone when an elections official told him he had received three write-in votes for a position no one had run for. That’s all it took, three votes, to gain a council seat in a city of roughly 7,000 residents.

For Klose’s part, he took the unexpected win in stride, telling the Billings Gazette, “I figure since I have the time, I should probably give back to the community. So that’s what I’m going to do.”

He has a good idea where one of his write-votes came from. The other two, no clue, but he promised, “I’m not gonna hold it against them.”

The result of the council race isn’t even the strangest thing that happened following Laurel’s 2017 election. The man elected mayor, Dave Waggoner, skipped his swearing-in ceremony, effectively forfeiting the job.

Following his victory, Waggoner was told he would need to leave his city position at the water treatment plant if he wanted to serve as mayor. Instead, the losing candidate in the race and former city councilor, Tom Nelson, will fill the position.

Thousands of elections for various councils, commissions and boards are held each year, so inevitably some of the results are extraordinarily close, and even seem a little strange. Recently, a deadlocked race in Virginia that would determine which party controls the House of Delegates went to a tiebreaker. And like many election tiebreakers, there’s little to dictate the best way to determine a winner.

In this case, Republican Del. David Yancey beat Democratic challenger Shelley Simonds after his name was chosen out of a ceramic bowl. The tiebreaker was not all that unusual, even to this particular state. In 1971, following a similar tie in a similar race, a blindfolded state elections official determined the winner by pulling a name out of a large decorative cup.

Following the most recent tie, the Washington Post’s John Woodrow Cox emphasized the point in a piece titled: “Settling a tied Virginia House race by drawing a name? Not that weird by history’s standards.”

He recalled the most significant tied vote in American history when in 1800 both Thomas Jefferson and his running mate Aaron Burr received 73 electoral college votes.

Cox writes: “That left the decision to the House of Representatives, but their own vote ended in a tie 35 straight times before the election was settled on the 36th ballot. The Constitution was later amended to separate votes for president and vice president.”

In more recent history closer to home, Constitution Party candidate Rick Jore tied Democratic candidate Jeanne Windham in the 2004 race to represent Polson at the state Legislature. Outgoing Republican Gov. Judy Martz appointed Jore as the winner. The state Supreme Court, however, found seven ballots cast for Jore invalid, handing Windham the victory. Two years later, Jore won in a rematch.

Just last year a tied city council election in East Helena was determined by the sitting East Helena City Council, which had the right to choose the winner.

Perhaps it’s an imperfect way to break a tie, but arguably better than drawing cards (Nevada), straws (Mississippi), or wooden blocks (Minnesota). Or one more person could just cast a vote and spare the candidates some anxiety.

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