We Have a Tie in the Warner Unified School Board Race

Election 2020

We Have a Tie in the Warner Unified School Board Race

Up in the remote stretches of inland North County, something very unusual has happened: a tie vote in the Warner Unified school board race.

Thousands of sorted ballots wait to be opened and inspected by workers. / Photo by Brittany Cruz-Fejeran

This post originally ran in the Dec. 5 Politics Report. Subscribe to the Politics Report today.

The vote count is finished, and the election in San Diego County is over … almost. Up in the remote stretches of inland North County, something very unusual has happened: a tie vote in the Warner Unified school board race.

On Friday, the day after the results were finalized, the rural community was positively buzzing with … talk about how nothing is buzzing. The power is out at many homes due to an SDG&E shutdown amid Santa Ana winds, and virtual school’s been canceled.

Still, the tie may be the most exciting thing to happen in the Warner Springs area since federal soldiers nearly got in a shooting war with a band of Confederate sympathizers during the Civil War. And it’s a big deal for Michael Vu, the registrar of voters, who’s never seen a tie vote before in nearly a quarter-century of working in elections.

“This election has had a lot of firsts,” he said, with the pandemic and all. Also, a dead candidate – he passed away shortly before the election — won a race for the Ramona water district board. That board will need to figure out how to replace him.

As for the Warner Springs school board tie, it’s between candidates Gene Doxey and Terry L. Cox. Both have 352 votes, tying them for third place in a race for three spots on the board.

The winner will serve on the board of a huge school district – 420 square miles! – that covers the the central-northern region of the county. Think east of Palomar Mountain, west of Borrego Springs and north of Julian. And think ranches. They’re big up there.

The district, formed in 1938 in one of the county’s oldest communities, is home to just 230 students from preschool to 12th grade. About 82 percent of the students are low-income, said David MacLeod, the superintendent of the school district, and many live in trailers or on Indian land. “Covid has been very difficult because almost every student is bused to school, and Internet connectivity is very poor in our area,” he said.

How will the election stalemate be resolved? “We joke around with different scenarios. The two candidates are good friends, so we talk about 10 rounds of sparring, etc.,” MacLeod said.

There won’t actually be any knockout punches. There are state election rules about this sort of thing, and they call for ties to be resolved by a game of chance. The school district will get to figure out what kind of game. “You could play five-card stud. I’ve heard of that happening in Nevada,” former county Registrar of Voters Mikel Haas told me back in 2009.

As we told you a few weeks ago in the Politics Report, we’ve had a few local tied races before over the past several decades. They were decided by drawing envelopes out of a box, drawing numbers from a hat, and tossing a coin. In a tie race for a water district board seat in Ramona, officials drew up two single-spaced pages of rules for a coin toss including the height that the quarter had to be thrown in the air — at least 6 feet. (The Ramona water district, by the way, used to be a hotbed of electoral intrigue with recall elections galore.)

MacLeod, the Warner Springs superintendent, suggested there may be no need for cards, quarters or hats. There’s word that one candidate may decide to bow out of the race.

But Haas, the registrar of voters, said the law doesn’t allow that kind of concession in this case. If one of the candidates really doesn’t want the job but still manages to win in the tiebreaker, Haas said, he could then quit the position and allow the school board to appoint a replacement – presumably the other guy.

This scenario sets up the possibility of a most unusual race-deciding coin toss: “Heads you win, tails I lose.”

What do you think?
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