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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Fairfield election comes down to the first drop

To break a 78-78 tie between two Fairfield Town Council candidates, Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton used two balls, each marked with a number assigned to a candidate. They were placed in a small milk bottle and then shaken. The ball that came out first marked candidate Steven Walk, on left, the winner over challenger Dave Watling, Mon., Dec. 9, 2019, at the Spokane County Elections Office. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

The race for a seat on the Fairfield Town Council came down to two balls and a milk bottle in a game of chance on Monday.

After an initial tie of 78 votes to 78 votes in the general election in November, Steven Walk won the tiebreaker to serve on the Town Council.

After the initial result between Walk and Dave Watling, a hand recount determined that the candidates did, in fact, tie.

It took county employees about two and a half hours to find all the ballots in storage and then 15 minutes to count them by hand to complete the only recount in the general election, Dalton said.

That left the deciding factor to a game of chance as outlined in Washington state law:When candidates in a race tie, the winner is determined by “lot.”

In Spokane County, the method for the last 17 years has been a brown milk bottle purchased for $2 at a local billiards supply store.

On Monday, two balls were placed into the milk bottle by county Auditor Vicky Dalton. The numbers were assigned based on the candidates’ order on the ballot, making Watling ball 1 and Walk ball 2.

“I’m ready for this just to be done with,” Walk said before the drawing.

On election night, Walk led by more than 20 votes but his lead slowly dwindled as more votes were counted.

A month later and the fate of the race was ready to be decided with Dalton holding the milk bottle.

“Whichever ball comes out first will determine the winner,” Dalton said as she got ready to shake the bottle.

Ball 2 rolled out of the brown milk bottle giving Walk the position 3 seat.

“I’m feeling good, happy,” Walk said. “Relieved that it’s all done.”

Watling did not attend the milk bottle proceedings.

Both Walk and Dalton touted the importance of voting.

“Fairfield had a great turnout this year of 180 some ballots,” Walk said. “The election got down to 78-78 but there were also undervotes, which means people left that section of the ballot blank, so those votes could have mattered – really mattered.”

“Every vote is important. Any one of those votes for a candidate really could have made a difference in this race,” Dalton said.

Walk, the executive chef at the Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort, said he is excited to get “up to speed” and hopes to work on upgrading the water systems in Fairfield.

He has already been attending council budget meetings and is excited to “organize it all up.”