Politics

By luck of the 'straw,' Democrat wins Mississippi House race

Republicans drew the short "straw," Friday in Mississippi. Seriously.

To break a tie in a state House election Nov. 3, Democrat Bo Eaton and Republican challenger Mark Tullos met in a crowded conference room to draw straws. Tullos lost when he reached into a red canvas bag and plucked out one of the two silver-plated business card boxes engraved with the word "Mississippi" and padded so the candidates couldn't hear what was inside. 

Tullos chose the box with the 2-inch red straw. Eaton picked the one with the longer, 3-inch green straw, giving him the victory and blocking the GOP from having a supermajority in the House. That supermajority would have allowed Republicans, in theory, to make decisions about taxes without seeking help from Democrats. 

"There's always happiness in a good crop year," Eaton, a farmer, said after winning. 

Tullos showed no emotion. He left the room without speaking to reporters. 

The fight isn't over. Tullos, an attorney from Raleigh, said before the drawing that if he lost, he intended to ask the House to seat him in January as the winner because he questions whether votes were counted fairly. He filed an appeal Friday. 

Eaton had said he would accept the result, no matter what happened. 

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 have given the GOP a three-fifths supermajority of 74 seats in the 122-member House. Republicans already have a supermajority in the 52-member state Senate, and Gov. Phil Bryant is Republican. 

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. 

In Alaska in 2006, a coin flip broke the tie in a Democratic primary for a state House seat. 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. Incumbent Rep. Carl Moses called "heads." He lost the flip, and the primary, to challenger Bryce Edgmon, who is still in the House today. 

In New Mexico, the current Senate minority whip, Republican William Payne of Albuquerque, won his first primary with a coin toss in 1996. 

Connecticut rewrote its law in 2007 to eliminate the use of chance, such as a coin toss, to break a tie in a legislative primary. The change came a year after a coin toss decided the winner of a Democratic primary for a state House seat. 

A game of chance can be used to decide other types of elections, as well. In a portion of Daviess County, Kentucky, in 2012, a coin toss broke a 21-21 tie in a local liquor election. The alcohol opponents won, and Graham Precinct remained dry.