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Fifth Circuit Ends 'Straw Vote' Election Controversy

By William Vogeler, Esq. on May 17, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Drawing straws is no way to sort out an election, but that's what they did to break a tie for a legislative seat in Mississippi.

The proper way to resolve disputes in most of America is to sue. They did that, too, in the contest between Bo Eaton and Mark Tullos.

The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals finally settled the matter, ruling the federal courts have no jurisdiction to intervene in such state elections. Fortunately for a scant majority of voters, the election is finally over.

Drawing Straws

Eaton and Tullos tied in the 2015 election, so they drew straws for it. Eaton won.

Weeks later, the legislature overturned the results after discovering several ballots had been counted improperly. So Tullos won.

Then the voters sued in federal court in support of Eaton. A trial judge said the court lacked jurisdiction, and the appeals court agreed.

"(F)ederal courts may not hear an election contest involving the office of a 'member of a state legislature,'" the panel said.

Battle for a Majority

The Fifth Circuit rejected the plaintiffs' arguments that their constitutional rights were violated, effectively ending the election controversy. It was a battle for a political majority from the beginning.

Eaton, a five-term legislator, went back to farming. Tullos, a lawyer, went on to sponsor 77 bills.

Apparently, no one explained to the legislature that drawing straws is typically a method for choosing a loser.

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