If the tiny number of votes separating Juan Vargas and Mary Salas dwindles to none, the Democratic rivals might take a page from a contentious tied election in East County.

Make that two pages, single-spaced.

That’s the size of a document that lawyers drew up to govern the election-deciding coin toss in a tied Ramona water board race. “It was almost laughable in how you actually flipped the damned coin and got it done,” said Mikel Haas, the former registrar of voters.

The details tackled things like the coin (a minted quarter chosen at random from a pool of coins), how far it had to be tossed (at least six feet) and its required path to the floor (unimpeded by, say, the drapes, walls or any people who happened to be around).

That was back in 1992. There have only been a few tied elections locally since then, and all were decided by random games of chance — flipping a coin, drawing a slip of paper out of a box or whatever else the deadlocked candidates could agree on.

If Salas and Vargas — who are running to be the Democratic state senate candidate — end up with the same number of votes, they’ll have to go to Sacramento to meet with the secretary of state who will figure out how to, as the election code puts it, “determine the tie by lot.”

There’s no more detail than that, meaning candidates could draw straws or pick a slip of paper out of a hat or play blackjack.

At the moment, there’s no tie, but it’s pretty darn close. By my count (the secretary of state’s office doesn’t have updated totals), just six votes separate Vargas (now in the lead with 24,079) and Salas (24,073).

At least things may be over soon: the San Diego registrar reports it only has 750 more votes to count countywide. The 40th state senate district stretches into two other counties — Riverside and Imperial — but they are done counting. (The vote numbers above are a total from all three counties.)

The recent history of tied votes in the county is more colorful than the coins, slips of paper and drawn straws used to decide them.

In Borrego Springs, two candidates for the fire protection board tied (at 346 votes each) and resolved the 1994 race by drawing envelopes out of a box. One contained a blank slip of paper, while the other had a slip that said “elected” on it, the Borrego Sun reported.

But there was a hitch: Who’d get to draw first? The candidates had another drawing to figure that out, with the incumbent going first. (The issue of who gets to go first is actually a touchy issue in an election-related game of chance. Before the 1992 coin toss could occur in Ramona, the two rivals had to each put their names on five cards, then wait while the interim general manager chose one to see who’d call the toss.)

In 2000, during the famous Gore vs. Bush presidential election, two candidates for the Otay water district in the South Bay deadlocked with 2,597 votes. A coin toss (with a three-inch San Diego bicentennial commemorative coin, the U-T reported) decided that vote, but it didn’t end the race.

The loser asked for a recount (of the votes, not the coin toss), but it didn’t change a thing: It was still a tie, although each candidate gained three votes.

“The coin flip has become the game of chance of choice,” said Haas, although he pointed out that a deadlocked race in Nevada was decided by a game of five-card stud poker.

“I still like Indian, when you put a card on your forehead, and the high card wins,” he said, “but I haven’t heard of anybody doing that.”


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