View from the fray

Only in Nevada, part 107

On Friday, they’ll cut the deck. And the holder of the high card will win a seat on the Esmeralda County Commission, the spot coveted by two campaigners who tied for the office during the Nov. 5 election.

That’s the law.

“We’ll be breaking the tie by lot. That means by chance,” said Kelly Eagan, the chief deputy clerk for Esmeralda County. The county’s clerk, De Ann Siri, has been out of the office while recovering from a recent back surgery in Las Vegas. So the job of determining the election’s winner fell to Eagan, who said Tuesday that she hadn’t yet bought the new deck of cards she’ll use for the event.

“It’ll just be a plain, old deck of playing cards—ace through king,” she said.

Goldfield is the Esmeralda County seat. You may have heard of this community a couple of years ago, when folks sold the Goldfield High School for $8,000 to a couple who then listed the building on eBay. That was fun.

Now, elections are being decided by the luck of the draw. Odds are, Eagan said, reporters will be arriving from Las Vegas and Reno to record the moment.

When voters’ first returns came in out, County Commission contenders R.J. Gillum (D) and Dolores “Dee” Honeycutt (R) were running neck and neck. Gillum received 105 votes. Honeycutt pulled ahead with 107. Gillum called for a recount. After the votes were tallied once again, the two were tied with 107 votes each.

Eagan estimated that 50 people in town didn’t vote.

“It’s a rarity to have such an exact tie,” she said. “It has to have happened before, though, because it’s in the NRS how to break it.”

A little-known Nevada law requires that, in counties like Esmeralda, the tie is to be broken “by lot.” Lest you think we jest, NRS 293.400 states: “The county clerk shall summon the candidates who have received the tie votes to appear before him at a time and place designated by him and determine the tie by lot.”

I failed to reach Honeycutt by phone Tuesday. But candidate Gillum—whose “role model is Jesus Christ and favorite authors are Moses and Saint Paul"—said he’s thrilled about the idea. Casting lots has been a fine governmental tool since Bible days, the father of seven said, as he juggled his granddaughter and the phone.

I caught Gillum, the owner of High Desert Automotive Services and Storage, just as he was “going into town for some kerosene.” Gillum’s lived in the area, he said, for 30 years. He graduated from Tonopah High School, as did his children. His opponent “just moved here two years ago.”

If the lot falls to him, Gillum said he’ll bring strength, unity and strong leadership to the office. His priority, he said, would be rebuilding the town itself, spending fewer resources on such nonsense as historic renovations.

“The town is being let go while they do the glitter gulch historical stuff,” he said.

Yet he’s pretty pleased about being in on the rare act of breaking a tie vote.

"[My wife and I] think it’s grand to be making history," he said. "This is a gambling state."