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The ballot contested by Mark Barthel showed a partially filled-in vote for Larry Sorensen in the Albertville, Minn., City Council race.

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Larry Sorensen

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Rare coin toss settles race for Albertville City Council

  • Article by: KELLY SMITH
  • Star Tribune
  • November 20, 2012 - 9:28 PM

A flip of a coin determined the winner of a City Council race in Albertville, Minn., ending two weeks of suspense that included a recount and contested ballot that left even the council divided.

Candidate Mark Barthel won by one vote until a recount put Larry Sorensen up by one. But when Barthel contested one partially filled-in bubble cast for Sorensen, the City Council split on its validity, prompting the coin toss.

"When you campaign, you say every vote counts, but I didn't think it would come down to one vote," winner Sorensen said Tuesday.

To settle the unusual tiebreaker, the city used a unique gold dollar coin. Sorensen was assigned heads. Barthel got tails. And with the flip of the coin Monday night, nearly two weeks of uncertainty ended: Heads prevailed.

"It's a very strange election, but the process did what it was supposed to and I respect that," Barthel said, adding that his supporters were baffled by the news Tuesday, saying 'What? You won [on Election Day]!' People were shocked."

Minnesota Secretary of State spokeswoman Pat Turgeon said elections are rarely determined by the flip of a coin, but it isn't unheard of.

In 2008, the northwestern Minnesota town of Goodridge had a recount for the mayoral race that ended in a tie of 44 votes each, prompting a coin toss. That also was the case that year in Farmington, where a deadlocked school board race for a sixth open spot was broken by a coin toss.

But in Albertville this year, the race wasn't just tied, it was divided at every turn.

Like a lot of cities, Albertville had a high voter turnout of 90 percent this year, leaving staffers to spend six hours last week recounting all 3,714 ballots cast.

When Barthel challenged one ballot's validity, the canvassing board -- the five-member City Council -- was forced to determine whether the vote counted. If so, Sorensen would win. If not, the race would remain tied at 1,116 votes each.

Sorensen, a council member running for his second term, had to abstain from voting, so the council split 2-2. State statute requires the game of chance in the case of a tie-breaker.

"It was astounding to me it was that close," Sorensen said of the race, which had six people running for two City Council spots.

In Albertville, it wasn't the first time he's won in an unorthodox way. Four years ago, he won as a write-in candidate because only one other person ran for the two open spots.

Now, it's Barthel who may get the unconventional win.

With Jillian Hendrickson leaving the City Council to become mayor in January, the council has to appoint someone to fill her remaining two-year term.

Barthel hopes it will be him.

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141; Twitter: @kellystrib

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