Take Note

April 16, 2003 1 min read


A deadlocked race for a seat on a Pekin, Ill., school board was finally determined last week by a game of chance.

Challenger Sandi Roos Ellwanger and Richard W. Root, a 12-year incumbent, could only stand by and watch as the superintendent of the 3,400-student Pekin Grade School District 108 dipped his hand into a box and selected the winner.

Divided voters went to the polls on April 1. When officials tallied the final count, each candidate came away with exactly 3,200 votes.

The race already had been an “emotional roller coaster,” according to Mr. Root, who recalls being down by 40 votes, then 16, then only four. When the call came announcing the tie, he was stunned.

Ms. Ellwanger, a first-time candidate, said she was just happy to be tied, but her elation quickly turned to shock.

“I called down to the election committee to see what to do next,” she said, “and when they said they’d have to flip a coin, I said ‘Pardon me?’ ”

The state law that governs all elections in Illinois, on the books for about 30 years, allows elections that result in a tie to be determined by lot or any other unbiased activity based on chance, said Chuck Bowen, the district’s assistant superintendent.

Election officials in Pekin couldn’t decide who would fairly call a coin toss, so they opted to put two names in a box and draw the winner.

“It was hard for both of us,” said Ms. Ellwanger, the director of a day-care center who ran for the board on a platform that called for bringing more parental views to the district. “But one of us had to be unlucky that day.”

As fate would have it, she won, but the law is not something she supports. “I think at some point in time it should be looked at and changed,” she said, noting that she would have preferred an alternative solution, such as splitting her four-year term with Mr. Root.

“I asked if she wanted to arm-wrestle [for the board seat], but she declined the opportunity,” joked Mr. Root, a 20-year law-enforcement officer and former police chief who has served in many volunteer positions.

“It’s really difficult to think that two people could work this hard and have their efforts determined by chance,” he said, “but Pekin has been a wonderful experience, [and] I think if an experience is that good, you should allow someone else to have that experience, too.”

—Marianne D. Hurst