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Thief River Falls uses coin toss to break city election tie

THIEF RIVER FALLS, Minn. — The flip of a coin broke a tie in the election for a Thief River Falls City Council seat, and though luck favored the incumbent, the challenger plans to ask for a recount.

During a Tuesday City Council meeting, Jerald Brown won a best-of-five coin toss for the Ward 4 seat. He and challenger Justen Lee each received 301 votes during the general election last week.

The two sat about 20 feet apart as Finance Director Angie Philipp flipped a silver dollar, Brown said. When the coin landed on the ground for a fourth time, it showed heads, giving Brown the three flips he needed to win the tossup for his seat.

But Lee told the Herald on Wednesday he plans to submit a written request for a recount, which he must do by Tuesday.

"It was a little bit frustrating losing the coin toss, but it didn't really bother me that much because I knew that I had already planned on doing the recount," he said, adding he was surprised he did so well in the election, especially since it was his first run for a public office.

Thief River Falls has a history of close races. In 2012 when Brown first was elected to the council, he won by one vote. In 2014, Rachel Prudhomme won Ward 5 by two votes. Another race that year had Josh Hagen win Ward 3 by four votes.

Minnesota law states a tie for a municipality election can be decided by result of lot. There are several methods a city can use, but Thief River Falls chose a coin toss, Philipp said.

Brown said he never has seen a vote decided by a coin toss. Philipp has worked as the city's finance director for about 2½ years, but before that she worked in the Pennington County Auditor's Office for 18 years, adding the only time she has seen a tie broken with casting lots was during a Goodridge City Council election.

Brown said he was confident going into the race and coin toss. His name was drawn from a hat in choosing which coin face he would claim, and he chose heads. He also won the option to choose between a quarter and a silver dollar for the coin toss, going with the silver dollar.

"You got to believe you are going to win," he said.

The first two tosses produced heads, the third toss came up tails, and the fourth revealed heads, giving him the victory.

The coins came from the Finance Director's Office, meaning Brown and Lee had no connection to them.

Brown said he is excited about possibly serving the city for another four years, adding he wants to listen to all residents in the city and not just his ward.

"We've got a lot of great things coming forward, and I want to be part of it," he said. "It doesn't matter what ward you live in. I'm willing to listen to your concerns."

Lee said if he wins he wants to do everything he can to "direct the city of Thief River Falls toward a better future."

If the recount reveals there still is a tie in the race, the result of Tuesday's coin toss would stand, Philipp said, meaning Brown would be named the Ward 4 City Council member.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers business and political stories. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family continues to raise registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as the Dickinson city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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