An election in Mississippi ended in a tie, so it will be decided by drawing straws

21 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

An election in Mississippi ended in a tie, so it will be decided by drawing straws.

JACKSON, Miss. So, on Friday afternoon, 20-year Democratic incumbent Bo Eaton and his Republican challenger, Mark Tullos, will meet in the governor’s office near the state capitol. The stakes are high—the lucky winner will determine whether the GOP gets a supermajority and thus the chance to more fully destroy the state’s already meager safety net.

The winner was selected Friday after both candidates drew straws in a packed conference room in the governor’s suite in the Sillers state office building. By state law, the two are supposed to meet and, under the supervision of the state’s governor and secretary of state, determine the winner “by lot.” The governor won’t exactly hold up two pieces of straw in his hand: the two candidates will pick a box out of a bag, and the one containing a long, green straw will be the winner. But every once in a while, the fate of governments is determined by a considerably less eminent character, one usually found lurking in back-alley craps games and on the Vegas strip: Lady Luck.

Tullos, an attorney from Raleigh, says he will accept it if he wins — but if he loses, he intends to ask the House to seat him as the winner in January because he questions whether votes were counted fairly. Certified results show each candidate received 4,589 votes in the district in Smith and Jasper counties in south central Mississippi, a part of the state known for oil wells and watermelon fields. A Tullos victory would give the GOP a three-fifths supermajority of 74 seats in the 122-member House, which means, in theory, that Republicans could make decisions about taxes without seeking any help from Democrats. The Mississippians decided against it in favor of drawing straws. “I think they thought that was just too informal, and then what happens if the coin were to drop out of someone’s hand, or do you let it land in someone’s hand, or let it fall on the ground?” Tullos asked The Clarion-Ledger.

The potential loss of tax revenue is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. “It’s wrong—philosophically, morally,” Eaton told The New York Times (paywall) of the draw. “It’s archaic, it’s medieval, and it’s wrong. And with that, a mathematically improbable tie for the House District 79 seat — each candidate had received exactly 4,589 votes — had been broken, though not by the voters. In those instances, the House or the Senate (depending on which chamber the challenged seat was located) formed a special committee to examine the election returns. The National Conference of State Legislatures says 24 states have laws that say a tied legislative election is decided by drawing straws or by flipping a coin. An Alaska Mint medallion was used, with a walrus on the “heads” side and the State of Alaska seal — the fancy crest on paper, not the kind of seal that swims — on the “tails” side.

With the three-fifths majority, the Republicans could, for instance, pass revenue bills, such as tax cuts or increases, without any Democrat support if the Republicans all voted together. But the governor conceded that under state law it appears that “the casting of lots” must occur before either candidate can appeal the outcome to the House. “I will abide by the result and not challenge the election. The three-fifths requirement has allowed the Democratic minority to block Republican tax-cut proposals in the past on the grounds that Mississippi needs the revenue to finance schools and other services.

Republicans, who also control the State Senate and governor’s mansion, say the cuts, including a proposal to phase out the state’s corporate franchise tax, will jump-start the economy and promote job growth. Tullos, a lawyer from the small town of Raleigh, Miss., had said before the drawing that he would file a legal challenge to the election results if he lost, highlighting concerns he has about the way a county election board handled nine paper “affidavit ballots” filed by voters who believed their names were erroneously left off the voter rolls.

We need a new election.” The mere fact that the election came to this is one of a long string of disappointments for Southern Democrats, who once ran the region as a virtual one-party zone but whose power has collapsed in recent years. In 2011, Mississippi Republicans won a majority in the State House for the first time since Reconstruction, and increased their numbers in voting this month. Eaton, a gregarious and proudly homespun man who raises cattle and grows soybeans — and bears some resemblance to a young Jimmy Carter — met a reporter Wednesday morning at the Huddle House in his hometown, Taylorsville, and tried to make light of the forces of history, and perhaps fate, that appear to be arrayed against him. “If I lose the coin toss, it’s going to be kind of like that Hank Williams Jr. song, ‘Dinosaur,’” he said, and he recited a few lyrics: “I should’ve died a long time before,” he said. Eaton has served in the House for 19 years; occupying a seat formerly held by his grandfather, a pine-belt populist who was also named Blaine Eaton and was known as “the silver-tongued orator of Sullivan’s Hollow.” There were no debates in the contest. In person, he spoke passionately about the need to resist corporate tax cuts, and to expand Medicaid under President Obama’s health care law, an idea rejected by Mr.

Tullos’s law practice is about 20 minutes up the road in the county seat of Raleigh, a small town where many things — a small park, offices, a dental clinic — conspicuously bear his family name. He said he went door to door with a campaign that did not emphasize Republican Party talking points so much as a promise to bring more business to the area. Smith County, he said, lacks a retailer where one can buy a decent pair of shoes. “I want to go to Jackson, and whenever they start talking about economic development, I want to hold up my hand and say, what about this district?” he said before today’s drawing.

On Thursday, Greg Snowden, the Republican House speaker pro tempore, predicted that “every member of the House will treat this with the utmost seriousness.”

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