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New Mexico magistrate judge primary decided with flip of a coin

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When you’re running for an elected office, eventually it comes to the point where all you can do is leave everything up to chance. For two candidates in New Mexico, however, the race was quite literally left up to chance when a tie in the voting was broken with a coin toss, of all things.

The race in question was for the job of magistrate judge in McKinley County, which is located in the northwestern part of the state and includes the city of Gallup (of Route 66 and songs about Route 66 fame). Kenneth Howard Jr. and Robert Baca were running against each other in the June Democratic primary when they each received exactly 2,879 votes.

What to do in this unusual situation? Rochambeau apparently wouldn’t cut it, so the candidates gathered at a courtroom in Gallup as an official with the party instead tossed a 50-cent piece. The AP notes on Thursday that Howard won the toss and since there is no opponent in the upcoming general election, the job is his.

Call this one a quirk of living among a smaller population, but deciding races with the help of a coin toss is not as unusual as you might think. In fact, several states mandate that ties like the one between Howard and Baca be decided “by lot” (though Kentucky decided to be a killjoy and specifically prohibit deciding with a duel). It doesn’t always have to be a coin toss, either; ties can be broken by drawing straws, card games, or even picking a name out of a hat, as long as it involves deciding the race by chance.

Another New Mexico race was almost decided by lot in 2012, when two candidates for state representative--certainly a race less likely to reach a tie and involving higher stakes--each received 6,247 votes. Incumbent Terry McMillan emerged victorious after a recount determined that he won re-election by eight votes. Still, the state did decide a state house race with a coin toss in 1980, which is reportedly the highest-level race to be decided in that manner.

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