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How The World Wags

By Dave Kiffer

October 07, 2005

Ketchikan, Alaska - Well, the local elections are all over but the shouting.

Some of my friends won, some of my friends lost. So it goes.

One of the races appears to have been decided by six or seven votes. Two years ago, one of races was decided by five. We all think that our votes don't count but that's not the case. A few years back, the Alaska governor's race was decided by about a hundred votes and we all know what happened in Florida in 2000.

But what actually happens if a race ends in a tie? Locally, we would likely have a coin flip. In some other places they choose from a deck of cards or pick straws. A few rare places call "Mulligan" and have a do-over.

gif The day after

The Day After
©Bob Englehart, The Hartford Courant
Distributed by Cagle Cartoons, Inc.

Those options strike me as far too pedestrian.

So I did some research to see how other places deal with situations regarding tie-breakers. Some other states have statewide policies.

In Florida, they draw straws. Imagine if the tortuous 2000 Presidential Campaign had of come down to that. Both parties would still be arguing over who got to go first. Perhaps, they could just battle over who drew the biggest "hanging chad."

Wisconsin also calls for drawing "lots." I suppose it also means picking a straw or a high card. But wouldn't you really rather see the contenders battle over the biggest chunk of cheese? Maybe they could both attend a state fair and vie over who gets closest to the correct number of "slices" in the "Belle of Wisconsin" (some 40,000 pounds of cheddar).

In New Mexico, the state constitution simply calls for tie votes to be broken by a "game of chance." It leaves it up to an election judge to determine the proper game, whether it be poker, craps or simply trying to safely dodge the "Sea of Semis" on Interstate 40 in Albuquerque.

But in most places, local option seems to be the normal way of dealing with tie-breakers.

For example, in the hunting country of central Ohio - which by the way claimed to have had the world's largest wheel of cheese before a tragic refrigeration accident led to the Colossal Curdle of Coshockton - there is a report that a small village once settled an election tie with a hunt off and the winner prevailed on the basis of Boone and Crockett score, weight and distance fired.

On a less bloodthirsty note, a peacenik political party in Oregon once agreed before a party caucus that any ties would be broken by choosing the correct "secret" ice cream flavor. No word on whether the flavor was "Wavy Gravy" but I have my suspicions.

Small towns in Kentucky have been known to settle political disputes with horse races. Personally, I'd give up a couple of kickbacks to see a two politicians run a good seven furlongs to settle a deadlocked race.

And Mark Twain "reports" that a small town in Kansas once settled a hopelessly deadlocked political battle by having the tied mayoral candidates pick whether a man or woman would be the first passenger to disembark from the noon train. Naturally, the only debarking passenger that trip was a horse - and a gelding at that.

Of course, when you talk about tie-breakers you have to consider the world of sports which has perfected to the tie-breaker to the nth degree with such factors things as scoring differentials, intra-conference records and head to head match-ups.

On the surface that would seem to have little to do with political clashes, but when you think about how many of the same local folks seem to run year in and year out and get elected, then de-elected and get-elected again, maybe there is merit in those some of those stats. In Ketchikan, you actually could survey historical head-to-head matchups between some of the candidates.

Since this is Alaska - where a long, long, long time ago the village of Ruby allegedly settled a tie vote with a drinking contest - I think we can come up with some interesting tie breakers.

How about an ear pull? Politicians are always accused of pulling other peoples' appendages. Maybe we could pick a winner based on someone's ability to withstand a pull.

Another option would be a logrolling competition (even though it's more of a lumberjack than a logger sort of thing) For once, it would be a true statement to say both candidates "were all wet."

Locally, we could have the tied political hopefuls bet on whether the next person to come down a cruise ship gang plank will (a) trip, (b) take a picture or ( c ) ask where the nearest bathroom is. I realize that the election season usually occurs well after the final piece of tanzanite has been hawked. But then again, maybe delaying the results of the October election till the following May wouldn't be such a bad thing.

Another local option could involve fire arms. Since we are all required by state law to carry a concealed weapon, it makes sense that some sort of shooting demonstration might be a good tie breaker as well. Rather than flipping a coin, we could challenge a political hopeful to shoot a hole through one.

After all, Alaska's most famous "political" dispute was settle with weaponry. A little over 100 years ago, the good citizens of Skagway were faced with a political choice. The "status quo" of Soapy Smith or the "reform" party of Frank Reid. A shootout ensued on the local docks and both men died.

A lot of folks would no doubt consider that the best possible political outcome.


Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2005

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