EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 14, 2013

Coin tosses determine election winners

Elections ending in dead heat are determined by coin toss

By Alex Lippa
alippa@eagletribune.com

---- — Heads you win, tails you lose.

Just ask new Sandown treasurer Erica Olsen and James Peck, Plaistow’s newest library trustee.

Both ended up in a dead heat after the ballots were counted — and counted again — Tuesday night.

In Sandown, Olsen and Bruce Cleveland each received 232 votes. Peck was all tied up with Jane Query at 225 votes apiece in a race for Plaistow library trustee.

Yesterday, both races came down to the luck of the draw.

It was only fitting that the race for Sandown treasurer was decided by a coin toss.

As she is allowed under state law, Town Clerk Michelle Short decided a coin toss would break the tie.

But first, Olsen and Cleveland had to draw straws to see who got to call it. Olsen won that and called heads. Short flipped the gold coin and Olsen was named treasurer.

New Hampshire RSA 669:36 states that in case of a tie “the winner shall be determined by lot by the town clerk in the presence of the candidates who are tied.”

“It has to be fair and everyone has to have an equal chance to win,” Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan said. “It couldn’t have been a physical activity, it had to be something random.”

Short joked the race could have been determined in any number of ways.

“We could have had them make fire or something,” Short said.

Plaistow Town Clerk Maryellen Pelletier opted to flip a coin, too. She used a quarter from the cash drawer to determine whether Peck or Jane Query, tied with 225 votes apiece, would join the library trustees.

“We weren’t sure exactly how it was to be handled,” Pelletier said. “We called the secretary of state’s office just to be sure.”

Heads took it again and Peck won.

Peck said his first foray into town politics was a little unusual.

“It seemed a bit weird,” he said. “I didn’t have a good idea what would happen, but (Selectman) John Sherman told me they have flipped a coin in the past.”

Pelletier said it was the first time that an election had to be settled by coin flip since Robert Gray was elected selectman more than a decade ago.

Scanlan said ties happen throughout the state every year, but usually not in contested races.

“It’s more common when there are uncontested races and it comes down to write-in votes,” Scanlan said.

Peck believed the low turnout in Plaistow made a tie more likely.

“When only 700 people come out to vote,” he said, “the odds are much higher that something like that would happen.”

Olsen, too, said having the election decided with a coin toss was a little unnerving.

She went to bed Tuesday night knowing the race had ended in a tie, but she didn’t know how it would be settled until yesterday morning.

“I got a call this morning, saying we were going to have a coin toss at Town Hall,” Olsen said. “I was nervous about what would happen.”

It’s not necessarily final yet. Cleveland and Query both have until tomorrow to request a recount.

“My initial feeling was not to do the recount,” he said after losing the coin toss. “But I haven’t made the decision on whether or not to seek one.”

Cleveland was appointed interim treasurer in January after Marie Buckley stepped down. Pelletier said she doesn’t expect Query to ask for a recount. She said the library trustees plan to swear in Query as an alternate.

There was another tie, this one on an Atkinson warrant article, asking voters to establish a heritage fund and Heritage Commission. The vote was deadlocked at 502, which meant the measure failed.