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How a tie in Ward 9 might be broken ahead of next month's general election

A tie for second place in the St. Louis municipal primary for the 9th Ward could mean the two candidates decide the outcome by "casting lots."

ST. LOUIS — Aldergeddon appears headed to overtime in the newly drawn 9th Ward.

Two incumbent members of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, Mike Gras and Tina Pihl, are stuck in a tie for second place, according to the unofficial final poll results. Only one of them can advance to challenge newcomer Michael Browning who finished ahead of them both during the low-turnout primary contest.

St. Louis Board of Elections Commissioner Gary Stoff said local election authorities have identified at least a dozen provisional ballots cast by voters who forgot to bring an ID with them to the polls, though he has not yet given any indication if those ballots were cast by voters in the new 9th Ward.

Voters who arrive at a polling place without an ID have to sign an envelope so officials can compare their signature to their voter registration documents. If those signatures match, their votes still count, and in this case, could be the deciding factor in which incumbent advances, and which one loses.

"We'll see what happens in the next couple of days with the counting of the remaining ballots," Pihl said. "I thought it was going to be a lot higher turnout."

Citywide turnout was a paltry 12.6% in the "approval voting" contest where nearly one-third of the races were already decided before anyone cast a ballot.

"It should be a wake-up call really for all of us," Gras said. "These elections are important and voters shouldn't take it for granted; candidates shouldn't take it for granted."

"It's pretty clear by the numbers that this was the most competitive race in the entire city," Gras said. The results could not have been closer. Gras and Pihl both have 868 votes in their column, trailing Browning by 135 votes. 

"We've not had a tie before," Stoff said.

Election officials already had their work cut out for them in the March municipal primary. The compressed spring election calendar only provides two weeks for the St. Louis Board of Elections Commissioners to certify primary results before early voting begins for the April 4 general election.

The complications of a contest ending in a tie add more pressure to the equation.

Since voters adopted approval voting with Proposition D, no campaign has ever contested a tie vote in court, which makes the next steps unprecedented.

What happens if the certified results still show a tie at the end of the week?

"That's the question that we don't know," Board of Elections Commissioner Ben Borgmeyer said. "I mean, that's a question right now I don't know how to answer."

Anita Manion, a political science professor at the University of Missouri St. Louis, said judges could look to past election rules in older city ordinances before voters passed Prop D.

"Based on the ordinances, it seems like it's a coin toss," Manion said.

"If that's what it's going to be, you know, I know that we will come out to see who's going to be the victor," Pihl said.

"Obviously, you want the result to be the will of the people that voted," Borgmeyer said.

"I do feel like some arbitrary means to settle this might disenfranchise some voters," Gras said.

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