Heads or tails?
When it comes to breaking ties, choosing who goes first or how a football game starts, there is an unspoken agreement that the coin toss is the most fair, unbiased way to make that decision.
And that seems to apply even if the decision is a significant one — such as determining which political candidate gets the job, which was the case recently in two Mid-Columbia races.
Earlier this month, Bob Hagans called “heads” and won a seat on the Kahlotus City Council, making it the second time he guessed the coin flip right. In 2011 he also called “heads” and won after his write-in campaign led to a tie between him and his opponent.
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This time around, Hagans and Marcia Robitaille, each ended up with 19 votes. In a small town, coin flips may not be all that surprising.
But in the Richland School Board race between Brett Amidan and Jill Oldson, seeing the election come down to a tie with 6,178 votes each is pretty amazing.
Amidan was assigned “heads” by Benton County election officials, and the Eisenhower silver dollar landed in his favor. Oldson was gracious, saying she would not challenge the outcome and added that she didn’t lose the election, just the coin toss.
Dave Ammons, spokesman for the state elections office, said it sounds cliché — because it is said so often — but every vote really does count.
And while the Secretary of State’s office does not keep a record of how many races over the years have been determined by a coin toss, Ammons said it happens more often than people might think — at least in local races.
In fact, almost every election cycle sees at least one race somewhere that requires a coin toss, he said. Earlier this year, in the primary election in August, the Tenino Mayor’s race required a coin flip between two candidates to see who would take the second spot and move on to the general election.
With all the technology available, some folks wonder if there might be a better way to determine who wins a political contest.
But the coin toss is quaint, and Ammons called it All-American.
A Time magazine report on the power of the coin toss earlier this fall noted that if a robot were to flip the coin, it would be too precise and land the same way every time. Humans, however, are “beautifully imperfect” so the randomness works for us.
Hagans, Robitaille, Amidan and Oldson also should know they are in good company when it comes to being part of a coin toss decision.
History says Wilbur and Orville Wright flipped a coin to decide who got to take the first test flight.
Wilbur won, but his attempt didn’t go well. Orville’s flight the next day went for 12 seconds and is the one the majority of historians count.
There also is the story of how Portland, Ore., got its name. Two landowners apparently could not agree on what to call their property, so they flipped a coin. If the toss had gone the other way, we’d have a major city named Boston in the Northwest, as well as the Northeast.
So, next time you just can’t make a choice, flip a coin and call it in the air. It’s a trusted method, and is as good as any.