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Attorney says coin toss won't resolve sheriff tie

by Gavin Lesnick | June 9, 2010 at 9:33 a.m. | Updated June 9, 2010 at 10:27 a.m.


An attorney for the Secretary of State's office says a tie in the race for Stone County sheriff won't be resolved by chance.

The two candidates each received 1,383 votes in Tuesday's Democratic runoff and the county clerk said it might come down to flipping a coin or drawing straws.

But while Arkansas statute does allow for drawing "lots" to resolve a tie in a November election, there's no such provision for a primary or a runoff, said Tim Humphries, general counsel for the Secretary of State.

A tie is not listed in the statute as a reason for filling a vacancy, so no Democrat would be listed on the November ballot unless overseas votes or a recount changed the totals, Humphries said.


The race for sheriff in Stone County may come down to the flip of a coin after the two candidates in Tuesday's runoff tied with 1,383 votes apiece.

The remarkable deadlock, which County Clerk Donna Wilson said left her office stunned, is the subject of a meeting Wednesday morning by the county election commission. Among the options up for discussion to resolve it: another election, the addition of possible overseas ballots, flipping that coin or perhaps drawing lots.

Drawing lots?

"I'm assuming something like short straw and long straw," Wilson explained with a laugh. "I've been clerk 18 years and we've not had it in all that time. I think everybody is a little stunned. It's like, 'oh gosh, now what?'"

There are a few options up for consideration and more could come after the meeting.

Wilson said Cleburne County decided a tie in a county judge race about 20 years ago by having a special election. And the statute makes some mention of the drawing lots option, though Wilson said her office is seeking confirmation on how to interpret the law.

Another possible solution could come in the form of overseas ballots. Two of them were sent to Stone County residents abroad, but there's some question as to whether they will be returned and, if they are, whether they can be counted. The law allows for military members to send in votes up to 10 days after the election, but neither outstanding ballot is from a soldier, Wilson said.

There's also no guarantee the ballots will be sent back at all. And even if they were, the problem might continue if the two voters picked different sheriffs.

Incumbent Todd Hudspeth said he was actually relieved by the tie, since he was up by only 15 votes with four boxes left to be counted. None of them were from areas he believed he would fare well in, but he got just enough support to stay alive.

The two-term Democrat was challenged by Lance Bonds.

"It's better than losing," Hunspeth said shortly before heading to the election meeting. "I've got just as good a chance of being sheriff as he does."

But Hunspeth is torn about what to do now. He likens elections to going to the dentist - something that has to be done but isn't enjoyable - and he said he wouldn't look forward to the stress of extending the process again. But drawing lots or flipping a coin isn't ideal either: "I'd hate to lose my job on a stroke of bad luck," he said

So what should be done?

"Surely to goodness there's something written down somewhere that says how we have to do it," Hunspeth said. "Whatever it says, that's what we do. I wouldn't look forward to another vote. But I sure would dread that coin toss too."


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