coin toss.jpg

Driggs clerk Kreslyn Schuehler allows city council candidate Erika Earles (center) and Josh Holmes (representing candidate Miles Knowles, who was out of town) examine the half dollar before the Nov. 16 coin toss to break a tie, after Knowles and Earles each received 222 votes in this month’s election.

Julia Tellman | Teton Valley News

Knowles has requested recount

Driggs city clerk Kreslyn Schuehler came to the Nov. 16 council meeting armed with a shiny half dollar. She was the one tasked with flipping a coin to break the tie in the Driggs City Council election.

This year three candidates had vied for two four-year seats on the council. On the morning of Nov. 3, the election results revealed that while newcomer Scott Stuntz had won his race with 234 votes, incumbent candidate Miles Knowles and former council member Erika Earles had tied with 222 votes. Unsure of how to proceed, Schuehler and city finance officer Carol Lenz consulted with city attorney Sam Angell, who confirmed that because Driggs code does not have specific guidance on how to break a tie, Idaho statute calls for a coin toss.

After the Teton Board of County Commissioners canvassed the results on Nov. 12, the coin toss was added to the council’s Nov. 16 meeting agenda. Earles was present on Tuesday evening, but Knowles was out of town and had to send a representative in his stead to observe the coin toss.

Earles called tails. Luck was on her side.

According to the library’s newspaper archives, 2003 was the last time a local election was decided by pure chance. Nancy Nead beat Vern Armstrong in the race for mayor of Tetonia by also calling tails, as a TV crew chronicled the event.

Nead, a middle school teacher, said at the time, “It’s like my kids told me. Tails never fails.”

Looking further back in Teton County history, a 1968 sheriff’s race was decided by a coin toss, as was a 1985 Tetonia council race. It appears that this was the first tie-breaker to occur in a Driggs election.

Because the margin was so slim (or nonexistent, in this case) Knowles was entitled to request a recount of votes, at no cost to himself. He confirmed on Nov. 17 that he would be sending his request to the state attorney general’s office. After over a decade without a recount, this community will have seen two in quick succession.

In 2009, a two-year Victor City Council term nearly came down to a coin toss, but in that case the recount occurred first. In the recount, candidate Grant Thompson eked out a one-vote win over write-in candidate Matt Eagens.

The state statute isn’t crystal clear on whether the coin toss or the recount should come first; county clerk Kim Keeley said it’s up to the interpretation of the attorney general, who oversees municipal election recounts. She is in the process working with the AG’s office to schedule the event, which will likely take place in the next week or so.