Could Nevada City council election be decided by coin toss? | TheUnion.com

Could Nevada City council election be decided by coin toss?

More than a week after Election Day, several races in Nevada County remain undecided, notably those for sheriff and district attorney.

But no race is tighter than that for the second open spot on Nevada City's city council, where incumbent Evans Phelps and challenger Erin Minett are tied with 627 votes each. Incumbent Duane Strawser remains in the lead with 685 votes while Pauli Halstead, with 318 votes, already has acknowledged she has lost the election.

On election night, Phelps was just three votes ahead of Minett. On Monday, Phelps had doubled her lead to six, but she lost that edge as of Thursday.

"This is painful," Phelps said Thursday afternoon. "This is hard on us, to have to wait so long. I wish we had an answer, one way or another."

Minett could not be reached for comment.

The top two vote-getters will take office in July and will serve four years on the five-person council. Nevada County Elections officials have said they expect to have the remaining 1,000 or so ballots tallied by June 19.

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What would happen if, even after the final tally, Minett and Phelps remain tied for second?

"I don't ever recall a tied vote," City Clerk Niel Locke said, noting that he won by one vote in his first run for office (that number did change after a recount).

It appears Nevada City would have had to request the option of a run-off election beforehand, said Michael Colantuono, who has served as attorney for a number of municipalities including Grass Valley. Absent the opportunity to conduct a run-off, Nevada City will have to break the tie by lot, or randomly, Colantuono said.

According to the Los Angeles Times, tied elections are usually found at a more local level and involve a smaller number of overall voters. While a coin flip is often used to decide such races, election outcomes have been determined by drawing names out of hats, jars and even cardboard boxes.

"I would advise them to conduct (the tie-breaking) in a highly visible random fashion, with absolute transparency," Colantuono said.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.

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