Luke Belant, Oregon’s deputy elections director, prepares to toss a coin to determine who wins the tied Republican nomination for Oregon’s 8th House District. (Julia Shumway/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Unusual coin toss determines outcome of 7-7 tie in Oregon House primary

The winner, Democrat Doyle Canning, can’t accept the nomination because she lost her primary race

By Julia Shumway

On Thursday morning, one Oregon primary election came down to an anticlimactic and ultimately meaningless coin flip. 

Republicans didn’t field a candidate in the heavily Democratic 8th House District in Eugene, which meant whichever qualified candidate received the most write-in votes could claim the Republican nomination. Of the 103 names written in by Republicans, the two highest vote-getters were Democratic nominee Lisa Fragala and her Democratic opponent Doyle Canning. 

Under state law, election officials needed to decide “by lot.” Past ties have been settled by rolling dice, but in this case election officials decided a coin toss was the fairest outcome. 

Neither Canning nor Fragala drove from Eugene to watch the coin flip, so employees of the Secretary of State’s Office served as proxies. In a basement conference room, a small group of employees, government nerds and one reporter watched as Luke Belant, the state’s deputy elections director, pulled a quarter from his wallet.

After both proxies agreed that the coin – minted in 2013 to commemorate Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry’s victory at Lake Erie in the War of 1812 – was acceptable, Belant tossed it in the air. It landed tails up – a victory for Canning. 

But that victory was to be short-lived: Because she lost the Democratic nomination, Canning is barred from accepting the nomination of any other party under the state’s sore loser law. Instead, Republican precinct committee persons – the elected local party officials who vote on party business, including nominating replacements for candidates or elected officials who don’t finish their terms – could choose a Republican nominee to appear on the general election ballot. 

Canning, laughing when she heard the results from a Capital Chronicle reporter, said she was shocked but proud that the Secretary of State administered elections so consistently, fairly and transparently. 

“Even though we’re talking about seven votes, it’s great that we can all be so confident that the laws and procedures are so dutifully followed,” she said. 

She still has no idea who the seven Republicans who voted for her are, but she said the tie vote coin flip should be a lesson for political parties to compete in every district. 

“The lesson here for any political party is to field a candidate,” Canning said. “I’m sure, had the Republicans fielded a candidate, they would have gotten more than seven votes.”

It’s rare, though not unheard of, for an election to end in a game of chance. It last happened in Oregon in 2016, when both Democratic candidate Janeen Sollman and Republican Dan Mason earned 41 votes from members of the Independent Party of Oregon. 

In that case, election officials decided to have each candidate roll a die. Mason won the roll with a six to Sollman’s three, Northwest News Network reported at the time, but Sollman, now a state senator, won with voters in November. 

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