In last week's discussion of the importance of one vote, I noted that two candidates had tied for a seat in the New Mexico legislature.

State law says that ties shall be settled "by lot," so tied candidates usually toss a coin. But news dispatches said that these two fellows "preferred to settle their battle at the poker table."

I thought that was a wonderful idea and commented that "sometimes you can tell more about a man by watching him play poker for 15 minutes than by living with him for 15 years." But I was dismayed to learn from the last paragraph of the story that the two candidates weren't going to play poker at all; they were just going to have somebody deal one hand of showdown to them. Showdown! wUgh!

Two readers have chided me gently for my intemperate comment. One is Fred Emery, from whom I took poker lessons in my youth. When Fred retired as director of the Federal Register, he formed Fred Emery Associates, "advisors on government regulations." The other who wrote is P. S. Porter of Vienna, who agreed with Fred that a session of real poker would not have complied with the law. Porter put it this way:

"As an old poker player, I share your evident scorn for people who would call a hand of showdown 'poker.' However, in this case you are being unfair to those two guys out in New Mexico.

"If their state law requires that tied votes be settled by lot (chance), it would have been illegal for them to settle the issue by playing real poker.

"Poker is a game of skill, art, mathematics and psychology -- not chance. According to poker lore, this was legally confirmed long ago by the courts of the state of Kentucky, and is undoubtedly the basis for the law in California, where gambling with cards is illegal but playing poker for money is not."

Sorry, fellows. When I heard showdown called "poker" I lost my head.

P.S.: When I covered police and courts for a Kentucky newspaper during Daniel Boone's time, Kentucky called itself a commonwealth rather than a state. It was one of four in the nation, as I recall: Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia. If there is a practical difference between a state and a commonwealth, I don't know what it is. POSTSCRIPT

The distinction between state and commonwealth reminds me of complaints about another word.

When I quoted a fact sheet on the importance of one vote, I noticed that it said one vote had "saved President Andrew Johnson from impeachment." I wrote a sentence that said Johnson had been impeached (accused and brought to trial). When tried, he had been acquited by one vote.

Alas, my comment had to be trimmed from the final draft, and readers have been sharp with me ever since. I think I qualify for leniency, not because impeach is so commonly misused these days as to have a half-baked claim to acceptance in both meanings, but because my reference to Johnson's impeachment was enclosed in quotation marks.

For the sake of the record, let it be stated that an impeachment is akin to an indictment.It means that a government official's conduct has been challenged and that he has been brought before a proper tribunal. The accused is not deemed guilty of misconduct unless he is convicted of the charges. WHO VS. WHOM

As long as we're being so pernickety about English usage, I might as well mention to a clipping sent to me by Al Paul of Rockville. The clipping was of an article we reprinted from the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. It began with the words:

"The women are pawns in a game of chess. They are moved from place to place, told what to say, how to look, who to like . . . who to trust."

As has been noted with sadness, the American school system has not achieved notable success in teaching the proper use of "who" and "whom." Our own newspaper continues to publish sentences that say, "John Doe, whom police say was driving the car, died in the crash."

When John Doe survives, he turns up in another story that implies he is a magician, e.g.: "John Doe turned himself into police."

P.S.: Some new dictionaries spell it persnickety instead of pernickety. I'm too old to learn the new spelling.