The year is 2016, and late in Iowa the winner of a state caucus for the Democratic party was decided by a coin toss. Many people had many different arguments to make for each candidate, and after a long fought night things were too close to call, so to the man who said money doesn't win elections ... well, check the book again. There was some shock and outrage with the idea that for such a weighty decision the deciding factor would be the flip of a coin. However, this is far from the first time that this event has taken place, rather it might be argued that decision by chance is a tradition that is as much a part of the democratic process and as American as apple pie and baseball.

Looking around the United States many states keep this rule on record for such an event, when there is a close enough race a "game by lot" is used to break the tie and determine a winner. What this means is that, not only could a coin be tossed, but other fun ways are open as well. Pulling cards or drawing straws are nice alternatives, however, the coin toss is by far the most popular. So after all the money spent, work done, arguments made it all comes down to chance within a democratic system, it seems counter-intuitive to the extreme. The idea to keep in mind is that this is used in situations where the race is very close, and this method of using chance has roots within the voting system going as far back as ancient Athens. As far as being upset by games of chance to determine important decisions, Americans are again not the first people in that category, it seems that the ancient Romans did not care for such games either. The argument stemming from the term sorcery, which comes from the Latin root "sors" meaning "lot."  Lets not forget also that Iowa is not at all special when it comes to flipping the coin, New York, Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, Missouri, Washington, Florida, Minnesota and New Hampshire have all in recent elections used coins to determine the outcome. Arizona and South Dakota prefer the card game method, and Virginia tends to use a hat. All of these are fine methods of chance well and true, and while some seem more fun that others they all have their merits.

Just to show how out of touch with politics the average outraged voter is, on the local level games of chance are commonplace and many records and stories can be called upon to show this. One such incident in a sleepy town of Kenton Vale, Kentucky in 2012 had two gentlemen running for the post of city commission where both won a total of 28 votes for the position. Due to Kentucky state law the result was to be decided by a "lot" or a game of chance. Both parties headed down to the court house and a coin was tossed, providing the city with their new commissioner. For state positions a coin toss is a bit more rare, seeing only one case to determine a winner of a general election in the last hundred years. That being said in primaries tossing a coin is more frequent, Alaska, Illinois, and New Mexico all have had cases of that within recent memory. With the highest election in the United States decided by a coin toss being the New Mexico state House race in 1980.

On the federal level a game of odds is extremely rare now-a-days. A study done in 2001 found that only one of 16,577 federal elections between the years of 1898 and 1992 were decided by a single vote. That was in New York for the Representative of the 36th congressional district, the winner a democratic editor of the Buffalo Evening Enquirer and the Buffalo Morning Courier, a one Mr. Charles Bennett Smith, won by only one vote (20,685 -- 20,684). More than that, not even one election within the study's time-frame was a tie, and only twice inside of that same time-frame was a state-level general election a tie. One oddity that did occur in a 1978 state senate race in Rhode Island finished with a vote of 4,110 -- 4,110; however, a special election two months later easily determined the winner due to a 50 percent reduction in voter turnout.

With the Democrats 2016 Iowa results it is clear to see that this might be another historic moment for the coin, however, it might be too early to tell any real result or outcome with last night's game of chance. So take it for what it is: a tradition, an easy way to get a result, or only the beginning of what looks like an entertaining race for the White House.

Published by Allen Colombo Jr.