The official call? Fiala wins tied Kent mayoral race by a coin toss

Tom Gallick

Ballots to be recounted Nov. 30, but he’s ’99 percent sure’ he won

Independent candidate Jerry Fiala won a coin flip Friday morning to become the declared winner of the Kent mayoral election after the official vote count revealed Fiala and Democratic candidate Rick Hawksley tied.

Fiala said he thought he would win the official count and was “set back” when he learned it was a tie. He said he had been worrying about the election results since Nov. 3.

On Nov. 3, the Portage County Board of Elections filed its unofficial results, which showed Fiala received 2,013 votes, while Hawksley received 2,011. Friday, the official vote count, certified by the Portage County Board of Elections, showed Fiala and Hawksley tied at 2,052 votes each.

Fiala said the candidates’ names were placed in a hat, and his name was drawn out by a Portage County Board of Elections member, giving him the choice of heads or tails. Fiala chose heads and won the toss, becoming the winner of the election, unless a recount shows Hawksley received more votes.

State law requires elections decided by less than half of 1 percent to go through a recount. The recount of the Kent mayoral race will be conducted Nov. 30.

Hawksley said current voting technology makes a recount less likely to change the outcome of an election, but he still believes he could win.

“It’s often the case that some of the ballots will be counted differently,” Hawksley said. “The way I look at it, it’s still a tie. Anybody could win.”

Fiala said he is confident he won the race by winning the coin flip, with current technology making a recount a simple formality.

“I’m 99 percent sure I won,” Fiala said. “With today’s technology, it’s pretty concrete. It (the recount) is just a process by law they have to go through.”

Lois Enlow, deputy director of the Portage County Board of Elections, said the coin flip was necessary because the board is required to determine a winner after the official count.

“In that case (tie) you have to declare a winner, and you do it by lot,” Enlow said. “The chairman (Norman Sandvoss) chooses the method, and he chose coin flip.”

Enlow said this was the first time she has seen a tie in a Portage County election in her more than 12 years working for the board.

“It’s very unusual,” Enlow said. “The last time we had a tie was 1979. The last time there was a tie in Kent was (the) mayor (race) in 1961.”

Mayor Redmond Greer won the Kent mayoral election of 1961 by coin flip over his opponent, Robert Byrne, after a recount showed they had tied.

Hawksley said he wished the Portage County Board of Elections would have waited to see if the race was still tied after the recount to hold the coin flip, like it did in 1961, but acknowledged a change in state law made this the proper time to declare a winner.

“The law requires them (the board of elections) to do that, even though I think it gives a false impression in such a close race,” Hawksley said. “An error on one ballot makes the difference between winning and losing.”

Contact public affairs reporter Tom Gallick at [email protected]