For the first time in at least three decades, an election in Ramsey County may be decided by a coin flip.
After all the votes were tallied for the Maplewood City Council race, incumbent Marylee Abrams and challenger Nikki Villavicencio found themselves in an exact tie, each with 5,755 votes.
Ramsey County Elections Manager Joe Mansky said he’s never seen a tie in more than 30 years of running local elections. The dead heat has given county and city officials a chance to brush up on state election laws, which require ties to be broken by “lot.” That allowed the Maplewood candidates and city officials some leeway in how exactly to break the tie. All sides ultimately agreed to flip a silver dollar.
Villavicencio got to make the call. She shouted out, “Susan B. Anthony” — the “heads” side of the dollar. It came up heads, giving Villavicencio the tiebreaker.
A hand recount scheduled for Tuesday will determine if the tie holds up. If the vote count is the same the second time around, Villavicencio’s win in the coin toss should stand.
Abrams, who is finishing up her first term on the council, said she is hopeful more votes will be found, especially after wonky results were posted on election night to the secretary of state’s website for the second straight Ramsey County election.
“We got so many assurances after the primary that this wouldn’t happen again, and then it happened again,” Abrams said. “It makes you question the process.”
On election night, the Secretary of State’s unofficial count showed that Abrams had lost to Villavicencio by seven votes. A postelection audit found that 68 ballots from one early voting location had not been uploaded to the website. Once those votes were added, the two were tied.
During the August primary, Ramsey County results posted to the secretary of state’s website were wildly off for several hours in Maplewood, St. Paul and Roseville races. That was because of a county programming error, which showed the wrong vote totals for candidates as they were uploaded to the website. That error, which was fixed by the end of primary night, did not affect the actual counting of those votes, only the way they appeared on the website, Mansky said.
Abrams said she is glad she and the public will see the actual ballots.
“I think a hand recount will certainly resolve any questions,” she said.
Both candidates said they were pleased with the turnout in what was Maplewood’s first even-year election. Maplewood city elections had been held on odd years but were changed this cycle to cut down on costs and increase turnout.
The tie shows that every vote matters, Villavicencio said.
“I’m definitely shocked it came down to a coin flip, but I’m elated we got so many people engaged in the electoral process,” she said. “We knew right away how close of an election this would be and I’m proud of our campaign.”