Florida

Two candidates once had the exact same number of votes. Here’s how they picked a winner.

How does an election recount work?

Florida law requires an automatic recount in a race in which the difference in vote totals is half a percent or less. The law requires a manual recount if the difference in the vote totals is 1/4 of a percent or less.
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Florida law requires an automatic recount in a race in which the difference in vote totals is half a percent or less. The law requires a manual recount if the difference in the vote totals is 1/4 of a percent or less.

Florida has seen this before. An election that is too close to call. A recount. Lawyers keeping an eye on it all.

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The 2000 election between Bush and Gore? That, too.

But this one was a since-forgotten 1990 election between two candidates who ended up with the exact same number of votes.

So how was the race decided?

At first by a bit of luck. They picked straws from a cardboard box.

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The election supervisor had a judge toss a couple slips of paper into the box. Then she had the candidates stick their hands in the box and draw a piece of paper. It was permitted under state law.

One slip said “Winner.” The other said “Loser.”

And that’s how a 1990 race for a commission seat in Palm Beach County was decided.

Or so everyone thought.

The race didn’t end with just a stroke of luck. A court challenge on an election issue led to a special election, where the loser in the drawing of straws became the winner at the polls.

Here is a look back at the story that chronicled how Lady Luck at first determined the victor of one crazy election:

Oct. 5, 1990: Bryant Culpepper can thank Lady Luck for his victory over Rosa “Cissie” Durando in a Palm Beach County Commission runoff election marred by a ballot-count controversy that’s bound to continue.

A recount Friday by a three-member county elections board ended in a deadlock between Culpepper and Durando.

The canvassing board, after consulting state law books, ordered the two candidates who collected 2,780 votes each to draw lots from a cardboard box. A county judge scribbled “winner” on one slip of paper and “loser” on another.

“Ladies first,” Culpepper said. Durando chose her folded slip and said, “I don’t want to open this.”

Culpepper opened the other one and shouted, “Winner!” Culpepper, who faces Republican Ken Foster in November, vowed to have the slip framed.

Durando left hers crumpled on a table. She said she’s consulting a lawyer and may take the matter to court.

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