Arkansas candidate who missed vote, ended up in tie loses race on roll of dice

It was a runoff to die for.

Tied in a runoff election for Hoxie City Council, incumbent Becky Linebaugh, 65, and challenger Cliff Farmer, 33, rolled dice Thursday to decide the winner.

Each candidate drew a single white die from among five that were in a green Christmas candy bucket. On the count of three, they threw the dice about 8 feet across the floor of the lobby of the Lawrence County courthouse in Walnut Ridge.

A crowd of about 30 people had gathered. Court took a recess.

When the clattering stopped, Linebaugh had rolled "six." Farmer rolled "four."

Linebaugh, who has already served four years on the council, was declared the winner.

She said she'd had a premonition.

"When they told me we were going to roll dice, I had a good feeling," she said. "Once a month I go play Bunco with my church group."

Linebaugh, who attends a Free Will Baptist Church in Walnut Ridge, was referring to a game involving dice.

Farmer, who is a minister at Faith of the Apostles Church in Walnut Ridge, said he was OK with the roll of the dice. It was all fair, he said, and since no money was on the line, it wasn't gambling.

"I'm definitely against gambling, but it wasn't an issue to me," said Farmer. "I congratulated her. She seemed like a very sweet lady."

None of this would have been necessary if Farmer had made it to the polls to vote for himself on election day, Dec. 4, or during early voting.

When he tried to early vote at 6 p.m. on Nov. 29, the polling place had already closed, said Farmer, who's also an assistant manager at Barton's Lumber Co. in Paragould.

Then, on election day, Farmer returned from a work trip to Florida too late to get to Hoxie before the polls closed at 7:30 p.m. His plane landed in Memphis at 6:30 p.m. Hoxie is 92 miles from Memphis.

"I just misjudged the time," said Farmer. "I am proof that one vote counts."

Linebaugh, who works in data processing at First National Bank in Walnut Ridge, said she voted early and, naturally, for herself.

Linebaugh and Farmer had each gotten 223 votes in the Dec. 4 runoff election. Richard Millsap, 46, was eliminated from the competition in the Nov. 6 general election.

Judy Verkler, chairman of the Lawrence County Election Commission, said they decided rolling dice would be better than flipping a coin.

"The reason why we decided against flipping a coin is we would have to give one candidate the first option of heads or tails," she said.

According to Arkansas Code Annotated 7-5-106(e)(2), if there's a tie in a runoff election for municipal office, the election commission shall determine the winner "by lot at an open public meeting and in the presence of the two candidates."

Verkler said she bought a package of five dice at a Walmart store in Jonesboro. She said the other two election commissioners, Mike Bradley and Tommy Holland, carefully monitored the candidates as they threw the dice "to make sure no one could touch it, move it with their foot, keep it all on the up and up."

The dice didn't bounce off walls, Christmas trees or any other obstacles, said Verkler.

She said the event was somewhat entertaining.

"I've been doing this for 10 years, and we've never had a tie," she said. "It was all very amicable."

Linebaugh said it was a nonpartisan race. Both candidates ran as independents. There were no debates.

"You just go door-to-door or you see people and ask them to vote for you," she said.

[2018 ELECTION: Full Democrat-Gazette coverage of Arkansas races]

Linebaugh said she met Farmer for the first time at the courthouse Thursday.

"He seemed really nice," she said.

Being on the Hoxie City Council pays $150 a month, less taxes, said Linebaugh.

"It wasn't going to be a career, just something I wanted to do to help the city out," said Farmer, adding that he will likely run for the council again in two years.

This time last year, candidates in Siloam Springs cut a deck of cards to decide who would have the second spot in a runoff election for the city's Board of Directors. In the special election, Reid Carroll got 86 votes. Jerry Caveness and Karl Mounger tied for second with 84 votes each.

Mounger drew the queen of spades, which landed him on the runoff election ballot. But Carroll won that election on Jan. 9.

That case fell under a different subsection of Arkansas Code Annotated 7-5-106, which is (c)(2), said Chris Powell, a spokesman for the Arkansas secretary of state's office. It also states that the candidate should be chosen "by lots."

"The law doesn't specify the method to be used, so it's kind of interesting the ways they come up to do this," he said. "They've got to pick a candidate one way or another."

Metro on 12/14/2018

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