Gambling to make government work, in Cave Creek, Arizona

It helps that it happened in a small Arizona town, in the desert, with a colorful name.  You cannot imagine such a thing happening in Yonkers, New York, nor in West Bend, Wisconsin.

A deadlocked election for the Cave Creek city council came down to a draw from a deck of cards, a poker deck carefully shuffled by a robed judge.

Cave Creek, Arizona, Judge George Preston, shuffles cards to breal a deadlock between Thomas McGuire, left, and Adam Trenk.  New York Times photo by Joshua Trent

Cave Creek, Arizona, Judge George Preston, shuffles cards to breal a deadlock between Thomas McGuire, left, and Adam Trenk. New York Times photo by Joshua Trent

We get the story from The New York Times:

Adam Trenk and Thomas McGuire, both in blue jeans and open-collar shirts, strode nervously into Town Hall with their posses. There stood the town judge. He selected a deck of cards from a Stetson hat and shuffled it — having removed the jokers — six times.

Mr. McGuire, 64, a retired science teacher and two-term incumbent on the Town Council, selected a card, the six of hearts, drawing approving oos and aws from his supporters.

Mr. Trenk, 25, a law student and newcomer to town, stepped forward. He lifted a card — a king of hearts — and the crowd roared. Cave Creek had finally selected its newest Council member.

“It’s a hell of a way to win — or lose — an election,” Mr. McGuire said. Still, it was only fitting, Mr. McGuire and others here said, that a town of 5,000 that prides itself on, and sometimes fights over, preserving its horse trails, ranches and other emblems of the Old West would cut cards to decide things. A transplant of 10 years from Yorktown Heights, N.Y., north of New York City, Mr. McGuire said he knew things were different here when not long after arriving he walked into a bar and found a horse inside.

Marshall Trimble, a cowboy singer, folklorist and community college professor who serves as Arizona’s official historian, said, “We are pretty tied to our roots here, at least we like to think so.”

Hans Zinnser, in the venerable Rats, Lice and History,  relates the story of an eastern European town where such ties are broken by lice — the two candidates put their beards on a table, and a louse is placed between the men.  The man whose beard the louse chooses is the winner.

Of course, this makes it difficult for women to participate in government fully.

Cave Creek is a typical cowboy, American town.  Deadlocks in government can be resolved by a game of chance.

Government teachers, history teachers, go get this story and clip it — it’s a good bell ringer, if not a full lesson in democratic republican government.

So, as the state’s Constitution allows, a game of chance was called to break the deadlock. The two candidates agreed on a card game (alternatives from the past have included rolling dice and, on rare occasions, gunfights).

Mr. Trimble said a cutting of the cards or roll of the dice had decided ties a handful of times in Arizona local elections. Tie-breakers have also been tried in other states, including in recent years in Alaska and Minnesota, said Paul Fidalgo, a spokesman for FairVote, a Washington group that monitors and advocates for fair elections.

Mr. Fidalgo said the group objected to random chance as the decider of election outcomes.

“Definitely not a democratic ideal, to say the least,” he said, suggesting, among other ideas, that the tied candidates engage in one more runoff.

That was ruled out here as too expensive, and besides, this was much more fun, as Mayor Vincent Francia made clear, clutching a microphone and serving as M.C.

“Originally we thought of settling this with a paintball fight but that involves skill, and skill is not allowed in this,” Mr. Francia said to laughter.

Did you ever think that the ability to shuffle a deck of cards would be a job skill for a judge?  There’s a reason law students play poker in the coffee lounge, and all weekend!

There’s more.  Go read the Times. This is also why the New York Times is a great paper, and why we cannot function without “mainstream media.”  Who else could have brought us the story?

More resources:


4 Responses to Gambling to make government work, in Cave Creek, Arizona

  1. mercedes benz car insurance says:

    I used this site to get information for that i had in my class. This is an excellent site for this information :)


  2. John Mashey says:

    Actually, I think this is a fine mechanism, just not general enough :-)

    Suppose one’s worldview assumes that in the real world, measurements are rarely exact, but should have errorbars attached. Exactly how precise are vote counts in large elections, for example? Hmmm.

    Of course, the weird mathematics of voting systems leads one to never expect perfection, but I sometimes whimsically think the following might be useful;

    a)Suppose there only two candidates, with A & B votes of total (A+B), with A>=B.

    b) If A/(A+B) >= X, with X large enough that no one is in doubt, then A wins, with no recounts.

    I’d think X = .52 might work, maybe even X = .51.

    c) If (A/(A+B) < X, then generate a random number between 1 and (A+B), and if it falls in the 1:A range, A wins, else B wins. In the case of A==B, this yields the Arizona procedure for ties.


  3. jo jurgens says:

    Having voted in the election, I was not surprised to learn of a tie between these two popular candidates.
    As a native Arizonan and proud “Creeker”, I felt it only fitting for our town, with a motto of “the town too tough to govern”, that the tie would be broken with a cut of the cards!


  4. […] about Politico as of June 17, 2009 Gambling to make government work, in Cave Creek, Arizona – 06/17/2009 It helps that it happened in a small Arizona town, in the […]


Please play nice in the Bathtub -- splash no soap in anyone's eyes. While your e-mail will not show with comments, note that it is our policy not to allow false e-mail addresses. Comments with non-working e-mail addresses may be deleted.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: