When the Richland School Board’s three recently elected members are sworn in Tuesday evening, at least one owed his position to the flip of a coin.
Brett Amidan of West Richland took the seat on the Richland School Board that previously belonged to board member Mary Guay after winning a coin toss against fellow challenger Jill Oldson. He joined incumbent Rick Donahoe and newcomer Gordon Comfort, who defeated board President Phyllis Strickler.
The coin toss, conducted with an Eisenhower silver dollar, was done Tuesday morning in Prosser after the Board of Canvassers certified a recount of the Nov. 3 election, election officials said. Amidan was assigned heads by Benton County election officials, leaving Oldson with tails.
Amidan and Oldson were separated by three votes after the initial tally of election results last month and state law required a manual recount be done to affirm results. The recount led to each candidate tying with 6,178 votes each, forcing the decision be made by a coin toss.
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“I don’t know if it was really tense, just shock that it would come down to this,” Amidan told the Herald.
Oldson did not return a call Tuesday seeking comment. Election officials and Amidan said they had no indication that Oldson planned to challenge Tuesday’s decision. Amidan said he was ready to get to work and that he isn’t concerned about people’s perceptions of him winning the election on a coin toss.
“They shouldn’t take me seriously if I don’t perform well, but I think I bring assets to the board,” he said.
Oldson formerly worked in the hospitality industry and was a stay-at-home mom until recently becoming a substitute teacher. Amidan is a statistician at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and also adjunct faculty member at Washington State University Tri-Cities.
Both shared stances on many educational issues, such as testing taking up too much time in schools and the value of the science- and technology-centric Delta High School shared with the Pasco and Kennewick school districts. Both question the effectiveness of the Running Start program for students wanting to get a jump start on college coursework.
However, Amidan has said he’d support test scores being considered as part of a way to evaluate teachers, which Oldson opposed. He also saw benefit to opening up employee contract negotiations more to the public, which Oldson questioned.
The election was close from the beginning, but Oldson generally led until the initial results were certified Nov. 25. However, mandatory manual recounts are required under state rules where there is less than a quarter of 1 percent and fewer than 150 votes separating between two candidates.
In the end, five ballots were added or changed in the recount after being reviewed by the Board of Canvassers. The three that pushed Amidan into a tie with Oldson included two filled out in pencil, meaning ballot counting machines failed to count them because of the lightly shaded marks, and another that was initially excluded by officials because the voter didn’t mark their choices in a consistent way. That raised questions about whether it should be counted and the Board of Canvassers said it should be included, election officials said.
Just as state law gave the parameters for the recount, it also gave direction on what to do in case of a tie, specifically that the candidates would “cast lots” to determine a winner. A county attorney suggested a coin flip, and Amidan and Oldson agreed.
“I recommended a lightsaber duel,” Amidan said. “The attorney said, ‘We don’t have any lightsabers.’”
In the days after the election, when officials were still counting ballots and awaiting verifications on signatures and votes, Amidan pounded the pavement. State law allowed him to receive a list of the people whose ballots needed to be followed up on, and he visited those he and his friends knew and encouraged them to follow up with election officials. That garnered him at least seven more votes, he said.
“I had to work hard to get this far,” he said.