Winners of seven deadlocked North Carolina municipal elections were chosen at random last week — by flipping a coin or selecting pens of different colors.
The state's municipal elections, generally held during odd-numbered years, elect officials such as mayors, commissioners and council members. While there are four different election methods, three of the four methods resolve run-off elections by lot, or random chance.
This year, there were seven deadlocked municipal elections that were decided by lot in the state — six of the elections were decided by coin toss while the Town of Garland in Sampson County decided by pen selection.
In the Town of Clarkton in Bladen County, the election for town commissioner was tied 25-25 when the Bladen County Board of Elections held a meeting to decide the winner by coin toss on Nov. 10.
Jimmy Hudson, Sr., the challenger, who attended the meeting, was assigned heads. But the luck was on the side of Lawrence McDougald, an incumbent candidate who was absent from the meeting and who will serve four more years on the executive board.
“I’m just going to try to learn any way I can to fight the hell out of it because it’s unfair and I think it’s illegal to gamble to decide who wins when you have a tie,” Hudson said at the coin toss.
Robert P. Joyce, a professor in UNC's School of Government, said there is a greater chance of having a tie in municipal elections than in other elections, considering the small percentage of the electorate who vote and the size of some municipalities.
He said the uniform municipal election law — decided by lot — which was enacted in 1971, is reasonable.
“In an ideal world, (a new election) would be better. But it’s too expensive and too inconvenient. Maybe way fewer voters show up to vote. It’s impractical," Joyce said.
James Stimson, a UNC political science professor, said in an email that deciding by lot is more fair than a runoff election.
“It’s impossible to come to a truly fair decision with a runoff because different — and usually far fewer — people will vote in the runoff,” he said. “That favors whichever party has more reliable voter turnout. Is there a fair outcome in a tied vote? To me a coin flip is the best you can do.”
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