Commentary: Tie Goes to the Council

By Beacon Staff

Following a hand recount, the race for the third Whitefish City Council seat ended in a tie, which isn’t all that uncommon. What’s fickle is how each municipality chooses to break these draws – from pulling names out of tins, to coin flips, to Whitefish’s method of having elected officials choose a winner. Each is flawed and should be replaced by either an intelligence or strength competition – erasing any pretense of decorum from the brawl that is electoral politics.

The cruel randomness of the coin flip is best evidenced by the stalled political career of Mary Jane Wilson, aspiring village council member in Lordstown, Ohio. In two council elections, Wilson tied. And twice, she lost in a coin toss. In her second race, when the coin landed in her opponents favor, the Tribune Chronicle of Warren reported that Wilson, predicting her fate, said, “Told you.” She wasn’t allowed the opportunity to go into overtime or extra-innings to prove her worthiness or stamina.

The same goes for Scott Gascoigne, who won’t serve on the Lehigh, Iowa, City Council because when names were dropped into a cookie tin and shuffled around, his opponent’s name was withdrawn – a saccharine defeat.

In Whitefish, both Turner Askew and Martin McGrew garnered 696 votes and the current city council or the next one that convenes in January will decide the victor. On its face, it appears McGrew has the advantage, as his policies are better aligned with the majority of sitting and elected councilors. But Askew has continued to lobby on his own behalf, writing letters to newspapers touting his community involvement.

All this would be unnecessary if the system offered alternatives to luck and what could be perceived as a biased appointment. In all other arenas of life when there are ties, some sort of runoff determines the champion. It’s those three minutes of white-knuckle, sudden death overtime in which we see just how deep we can dig – where we see who wants to win the most. Even in lotteries, if two people hold the winning numbers, they share the cash. But candidates can’t share a council seat, so a version of sudden death overtime is the only real solution.

There are several options, the most logical of which is a quiz-show style competition that tests each candidate’s knowledge of Whitefish, its history and its ordinances. What’s the maximum height that sign can be in town? If you answered 10 feet then you receive 10 points! Why does Clark Griswold (of ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’) live in the county, instead of Whitefish? Answer: His Christmas display would violate the town’s light ordinance. Twenty points!

If physical fitness, not intelligence, is more important to voters, then there are a plethora of options: arm wrestling, a foot race up Central Avenue, a swim across Whitefish Lake, or – if it’s determined that the competition should be held on neutral ground – the two men could run laps around the Kalispell Costco’s roundabout until one either quits from dizziness or passes out.

All of these are better options than succumbing to a coin flip or the opinions of others, which takes the outcome out of both the candidates’ hands and those of the voters. Imagine how losing an election to the dreaded “tails” twice has worn on Wilson of Lordstown, Ohio. That’s a jumbo bitter pill to swallow.

She probably would have preferred that the outcome be decided in Final Jeaopardy. Who built the first cabin in Lordstown? Henry Thorne! Or, just as good, she could have raced her opponent around the local General Motors assembly plant. Start your engines.