Democratic incumbent Blaine Eaton II was named the winner in a key Mississippi House race Friday after the contest reached a peculiar climax: A mathematically improbable tie forced candidates to draw straws — yes, actual straws — to determine the winner.
Eaton and his Republican challenger, Mark Tullos, each received exactly 4,589 votes in the election to the state’s House of Representatives earlier this month. According to state law, the winner had to be determined “by lot,” meaning, in this case, by the candidates blindly drawing either a green winning straw or a red losing straw from a bag, the New York Times reports.
But Friday afternoon’s drawing was more high-stakes than your run-of-the-mill game of chance; had Tullos won, Republicans would have gained a three-fifths supermajority in the Mississippi House — allowing them to pass revenue-related bills without Democratic votes.
Before the drawing, neither candidate was particularly excited. “It’s wrong—philosophically, morally. It’s archaic, it’s medieval, and it’s wrong. We need a new election,” Eaton initially complained. But later he seemed to resign himself to having his political career rise or fall on a game of chance. “Look, my life’s a gamble,” he told the New York Times. “I’m a farmer. I depend on the weather and the rain. The statue’s clear, but my life is not.”
Tullos, on the other hand, said that if he drew the losing straw, he would challenge the results at the State House, taking issue with the way some of the ballots were handled. Should Tullos follow through with his threat, he’s likely to win, as the chamber is dominated by his fellow Republicans.
“It seems unfair to the people of this district and this state to have a representative based on a coin toss, or on the Legislature choosing based on partisan leadership, since they need one vote for a supermajority,” Eaton told the Clarion-Ledger. “But I don’t think the leadership would have a choice [but to lobby for Republicans and vote for Tullos].”
Twenty-four states currently have laws requiring tied elections to be decided “by lot,” the AP reports, including Alaska, where in 2006 a coin flip sealed the election for Representative Bryce Edgmon, who remains in the State House today.