There were no lawsuits, no cries of election fraud and certainly no angry mobs storming the seat of government. Instead, a tie between two candidates running for mayor of a Houston suburb was settled after their names were drawn from a top hat.
“It was as fair as you can make it,” said Jennifer Lawrence, who lost the random drawing Thursday night. “I feel like this is how it was supposed to go. It’s disappointing, but it is what it is.”
The winner, Sean Skipworth, said that while he was certainly pleased that he had won, he had his reservations about handing democracy over to fate — in this case, two Ping-Pong balls, each one signed in black pen by one of the candidates, that were placed inside the hat.
“It was really exciting, but it’s a horrible way to resolve an election,” he said. “It’s always better to have people decide elections, not random chance.”
The drawing in Dickinson, a city of about 21,000, roughly 30 miles southeast of Houston, was allowed under a Texas election law that permits ties to be resolved by the “casting of lots,” or a game of chance, said Elizabeth Alvarez, a Texas election lawyer. It could be darts, a coin toss or a roll of the dice, she said.
It doesn’t happen often, she said, given the improbability of an exact tie, but it has happened before. In 2012, a tie between two candidates running for City Council in Wolfforth, Texas, was decided with the flip of a 1974 Eisenhower silver dollar.
“It sounds dumb,” Alvarez said, but the preference for quickly settling a tie is rooted in Texas’ deep-seated aversion to big government, which in this case would mean holding another election.
“We think, ‘You know, if it’s a tie, they ought to settle it among themselves, if they want,’” Alvarez said. “Why cost the city a bunch of money if we can flip a coin and shake hands?”
In Dickinson, the ceremony was held inside City Hall.
It came after a runoff election in December between Lawrence, a mechanical engineer, and Skipworth, a former City Council member and a professor of government at the College of the Mainland in Texas City, Texas, ended with exactly 1,010 votes for each. A recount certified the unlikely outcome Tuesday.
Together, the two candidates received 2,020 votes, which Skipworth said seemed like “evidence of higher intelligence in the universe.”
About 100 people were in attendance at the drawing. The top hat was placed on a table that had been draped in a sparkly gold sheet. Dickinson’s current mayor, Julie Masters, presided.
“Welcome, everybody, to this historic event in our community,” Masters said, before lifting the top hat for all to see, according to a video posted on the city’s Facebook page.
“I just want to show everybody — the hat is empty,” Masters said, as someone cracked a joke about a rabbit.
After Lawrence and Skipworth placed their signed Ping-Pong balls in the hat, Masters lifted the hat and rattled them around.
The honor of plucking the names fell to Mike Foreman, the mayor of Friendswood, Texas, who said Masters, his friend, had asked him to serve as an “unbiased ball-picker.”
“I got one!” Foreman declared, holding the ball up high, before Masters read the name aloud: “Sean Skipworth!”
As camera shutters clicked, Skipworth fell into the arms of his wife, Melissa, and son Christopher, 8, and then hugged Lawrence. He takes office Tuesday.
The graciousness shown by the candidates, both of whom accepted the outcome, wasn’t lost on anyone at the ceremony, which happened one day after a violent mob, egged on by President Donald Trump’s refusal to accept his election loss, rampaged through the Capitol and disrupted Congress as it was certifying Joe Biden’s victory.
“It was palpable,” Foreman said. “You realize, ‘Hey, there’s all this stuff going on nationally, but here they are — friendly, gracious, there’s no us against them. It was all of our residents and citizens coming together. It was a cool, friendly atmosphere, and I was proud of that.”
Lawrence, who was running for office for the first time, said the loss was a heavy blow but also a relief after a tough, 10-month campaign. She said she had a feeling that she was going to lose the drawing.
“I had respect for Sean, and I knew if I was going to lose, I was going to lose with grace,” she said. “This is about our community. This is not about me winning or him winning. It’s about how we get something done for our citizens.”
Skipworth said he was moved by Lawrence’s hard work and civility.
“Given what happened, it is refreshing for people to see this in everyday America,” he said. “At the end of the day, we came and hugged it out and shook hands, and that was it. And that’s how it should be.”
Still, Skipworth said he wanted to amend the City Charter to ensure that if a future election ends in a tie, it prompts another election, not a random drawing. He said he planned to turn his strange victory into an object lesson for his students on the importance of voting.
“Every vote counts,” he said, “and I’m living proof of that — literally.”