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Resolving Election Nightmare: a Tie

November 16, 2000 GMT

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) _ It could come down to an election official’s worst nightmare: high card draw.

It’s not a likely scenario for deciding the presidential race in New Mexico, where several hundred votes separate the candidates, but under state law, tied elections are more likely to end up at a poker table than before a judge.

Larry Dominguez, an elections official with the state Bureau of Elections, groans at the idea of deciding whether Al Gore or George W. Bush wins New Mexico through a game of chance.

``Let’s just pray that we don’t,″ said Dominquez, who speaks of nightmares in which he is chased by large, angry numbers.

It’s been state law since 1969: A deadlocked election is to be decided ``by lot,″ or by any other means acceptable to the candidates with the approval of a state district judge. The law refers to tie votes ``between any candidates in the election for the same office,″ although governor and lieutenant governor fall under a separate constitutional provision.

Numerous New Mexico elections have been decided by games of chance, but they’ve largely been municipal elections or local elections in sparsely populated counties. Dominguez and other longtime Bureau of Elections officials could not recall a statewide race that went to the gaming table.

``I’m glad I haven’t lived through one of those,″ Dominguez said.

The New Mexico Constitution does not allow runoffs, and Elections Bureau Director Denise Lamb has pointed out a runoff could end up tied as well.

Tossing coins or drawing cards makes sense because ``it saves everyone a lot of money; people go home happy; the winner can get sworn in; and everyone can go on with their lives,″ she said during one election-breaker.

Even the Federal Election Commission doesn’t know the exact number, but at least 15 states have similar laws, Dick Smolka, publisher of the newsletter Election Administration Reports, said earlier this year.

In Clayton’s municipal election in March, Jimmie Taylor called tails to win a coin toss and a seat on the Town Council. The Sacajawea dollar was supplied by his opponent, Garth Boyce, and tossed by Union County Magistrate Dave Kyea, who was at City Hall to certify the election canvass that gave the two men 341 votes each.

Boyce pronounced himself satisfied even though he lost.

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``I felt like, hey, you go over on election night expecting to find out the results and then you find out there’s a tie and you don’t know what to do,″ he said.

In March 1998, James Farrington won a hand of five-card showdown poker with an ace-high flush to be declared mayor of Estancia after he and JoAnn Carlson topped a field of five candidates with 68 votes each.

Two pair won a $53,500-a-year magistrate’s seat for Jim Blancq in September 1999.

``It wasn’t just a little poker game,″ Blancq said.