Correction: An earlier version of this story portrayed an incorrect order of events. District 7E04 was the first district decided, followed by 1B06.
The candidates converged Thursday to decide the outcome of two elections for Advisory Neighborhood Commission positions that — remarkably — had ended in ties.
But no one seemed to know how it was supposed to happen.
“Who the hell knows what ‘casting of lots’ is?” incumbent Dyana Forester had tweeted last week.
More than 1,000 votes were cast in two ANC races more than a month ago, yet here the candidates were at the Board of Elections office. After a pair of recounts, they were knotted and dead even.
Election officials said that they weren’t sure exactly when there was last a tie but that it had been at least 25 years.
“Casting lots,” someone pondered from the back corner of the room, about 15 minutes before the process began, “sounds biblical.”
D.C. code specifies the time — noon — when the casting of lots is supposed to occur after a tied election. But it doesn’t define the process.
Forester, who was seeking election for her second term as commissioner for district 1B06 in Columbia Heights, sat just a couple seats away from her opponent, David Gilliland.
Gilliland initially won the election by two votes on election night, Forester said. After votes were certified, Forester was ahead by one. A recount found them tied at 204.
“I read about a city council race in Florida,” Gilliland said. “They flipped a coin to determine who would pick a numbered ping-pong ball first.”
The elaborate ceremony he was referring to happened this year in Duval County, Fla., and was more complex than that. The two city council candidates in Neptune Beach drew names to determine who would get to call the coin flip, which determined who would decide who picked the first numbered ping-pong ball.
Casting lots is meant to determine a winner at random, and it can be done in a number of different ways. As seconds ticked toward noon Thursday, the D.C. candidates were still in the dark about how their races would be won.
The other race, for district 7E04 in Southeast Washington, was a dead heat at 204 votes apiece as well, between Myron Smith, and incumbent Mary D. Jackson.
As Thursday’s meeting began, Clifford Tatum, executive director of the Board of Elections, began explaining how it would all go down.
Heads or tails, like the beginning of an NFL game? Names from a hat, like picking houses in “Harry Potter”? Numbered ping-pong balls like the NBA lottery?
In Minnesota’s Cook County, commissioners were going to draw bags of Scrabble tiles to settle a tie, with the person who drew the bag with a ‘Z’ being named the winner. They eventually decided to draw colored blocks instead.
On Thursday in the District, it would come down to a red, reusable grocery bag.
First it was 7E04. Tatum stood in his gray, pinstripe suit, taking center stage with the tote bag and a pair of sealed envelopes, each including a candidate’s name.
“I will drop the envelopes into the bag,” he said. “I will shake the bag.”
He then walked to Dianne Harris, of the Commission on Human Rights, which the board selected as an unbiased third party. She stood and picked an envelope, giving Smith a victory in 7E04.
The second envelope she grabbed had Forester’s name in it. The candidate couldn’t contain a smile.
From the other side of the room, Smith also smiled and nodded, having waited a month to find out that he defeated an incumbent who had held the post for more than 20 years.
“Nothing has been going on, so me doing anything will be an improvement,” he said. “Just even letting people know when the meetings are.”
Smith said that the original drawing was supposed to be held last Friday morning. But it was pushed back to this week because the board couldn’t get a quorum for an official meeting. He observed that deciding a political election by picking envelopes from a sack “seems arbitrary,” but he added that he was just glad to have a resolution.
“I mean . . . I’m sure bigger minds have thought through this,” said the new advisory neighborhood commissioner. “Or maybe not.”