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With legislative control on the line, Alaska faces a rare election tie

A view of Denali, formerly known as Mt. McKinley, on Sept. 1, 2015 in Denali National Park, Alaska. (Photo by Lance King/Getty)
A view of Denali, formerly known as Mt. McKinley, on Sept. 1, 2015 in Denali National Park, Alaska.

Earlier this year, a Virginia House of Delegates race drew national attention, not because of its candidates, but because of its margin. In the commonwealth's 94th House District, the Democratic and Republican candidates finished with the exact same number of votes, and the outcome of this one race would decide whether there was a GOP majority in the chamber or not.

On Jan. 4, local election officials broke the tie by pulling a piece of paper from a ceramic bowl. It had incumbent David Yancey's (R) name on it, which meant Republicans kept their majority by the narrowest of margins.

It was a great story, in part because of its legislative significance, in part because of the reminder about the significance of every vote, and in part because it was such a rarity. Circumstances like these just don't happen very often.

And yet, less than a year later, it's happened again. The Anchorage Daily News  reported yesterday:

They're all tied up -- at least until Friday.On Tuesday, the Alaska Division of Elections closed its books on the 2018 general election, certifying races across the state with the signature of division director Josie Bahnke. Among the certified races is the one for House District 1, which officially ends in a tie: 2,661 votes for Republican Bart LeBon, 2,661 for Democratic candidate Kathryn Dodge.

The similarities to what transpired in Virginia are pretty amazing. If the GOP candidate in this state House race prevails, Republicans will hold 21 of the chamber's 40 seats.

But before that can happen, they'll have to resolve the tie.

I won't pretend to have any expertise in Alaskan election law, but according to the Anchorage Daily News reporting, state election officials are scheduled to convene on Friday to conduct a third count of the balloting in this district. If the tie persists, the candidates "may decide the race by drawing slips of paper, cards or ... flipping a coin."

The fact that this is happening twice in the same year amazes me.

Postscript: It's worth emphasizing, for those who are deeply interested, that there's one uncounted ballot in this race, which for some reason, "was found in a gray secrecy sleeve on election night and was deposited in a ballot box normally used for absentee and questioned ballots." The ballot, which was cast in support of the Democratic candidate, is currently "pending further legal analysis."