This morning, I got an email from a politically savvy friend from out of state, commenting on how yesterday’s random drawing from a bowl to determine the HD-94 winner was “bonkers.” I’m also seeing a ton of comments on social media about how supposedly “[o]ur elections should not be decided by random chance” or – my favorite – about the supposed “absurdity of world’s oldest elected leg being decided by lotto” (that one from Tom Perriello, by the way). For starters, Virginia does NOT have the “world’s oldest elected leg[islature]” – for instance the Vikings had an elected legislature as early as 930 AD.
But let’s put that one aside for the moment and focus on the “bonkers,” “absurd” random drawing issue. In fact, the Washington Post looked at this in 2014 and found that there are “35 states that [determine] tied elections by a coin toss or some other means of chance, according to state constitutions, statues, and election legislation reviewed by The Washington Post.” What about the other 15 states, you ask?
States that don’t cast lots typically call for another election to be held, while others allow government officials to do the picking. In Indiana and Montana, for example, if the candidates for governor are tied, the state legislature decides the election.
Think about that one — would you rather have: 1) a random drawing from a bowl; 2) a GOP-dominated legislature picking winners/losers; 3) having another election when the governor’s race is not on the ballot, when turnout is much lower and Republicans are (therefor) more likely to win? Personally, I’ll go with #1, followed by #3, followed by #2.
Anyway, the bottom line is that as silly as the drawing of film canisters from a glass or ceramic bowl or whatever might seem, it’s basically standard operating procedure throughout the United States to decide tied elections this way, and furthermore it’s hard to think of a better, fairer way to do it.
More to the point, what we SHOULD be focusing on isn’t how the tie was broken – pulling from a hat or bowl, coin toss, etc. – but on how we go to this tie in the first place. As Del. Marcus Simon tweeted this morning, “The issue isn’t with the form of tie breaker. The issue is Shelly received 1 more vote than her opponent before the court decided to open a sealed box of ballots & fish around for one a GOP official decided merited a re-re count – then counted it in clear violation of law.” Bingo.