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CHEYENNE — Elk Mountain residents will head to the polls for the second time this month on Nov. 23 after their first mayoral election ended in a tie.

Even after a recount on Friday, incumbent Mayor Rick Christopherson and opponent Morgan Irene each received 51 votes during Tuesday’s general election in the small Carbon County town of about 200 people. Under state law, tie votes are settled by drawing lots – a method that has happened with surprising frequency in Wyoming.

But the Carbon County canvassing board threw out the results Friday after finding that an Elk Mountain election judge inadvertently gave a ballot to an out-of-town resident.

Since the ballots are secret, there’s no way now to tell who the ineligible voter is or whom he or she voted for, said Carbon County Clerk Gwynn Bartlett.

“It was just a simple error by a judge -- a human judge -- who gave the wrong ballot to somebody,” said Bartlett, who subsequently called a new election.

Irene, a mechanic with Kinder Morgan, said that however the election eventually turns out would be fine with him.

“I would’ve been content with flipping a coin,” he said. “I feel like the Lord would make sure that the right thing happens.”

Christopherson didn’t return a phone call seeking comment Friday.

Several Elk Mountain residents said the mayoral race was contentious leading up to the general election and that rumors and malicious stories had swirled about both candidates.

However, Irene said he hasn’t seen any problems between him and Christopherson during the campaign.

"We’ve kept things real civil,” Irene said.

For many, the election was a referendum on Christopherson, who served on the Elk Mountain City Council for six years before he was elected mayor in 2006.

“Basically, some are tired of him – some think he’s doing a good job,” said Ken Casner, an Elk Mountain cafe owner who ran unsuccessfully for state Senate this year. “It’s just like all small communities -- when you get angry at each other, you tend to put division lines.”

If the two candidates tie again during the Nov. 23 special election, Bartlett said the winner would be decided by choosing lots, the method used in such situations under state law since 1957.

Since then, a surprising number of political races in the state have been settled by drawing a slip of paper from a hat or a similar method, said University of Wyoming history professor Phil Roberts.

In the most recent case, Republican Randall Luthi and independent candidate Larry Call each received 1,941 votes in a 1994 state House race in northern Lincoln County.

The matter was settled on national television when Wyoming Secretary of State Kathy Karpan, appearing on NBC’s Today Show, chose a ping-pong ball with Luthi’s name written on it from then-Gov. Mike Sullivan’s battered Stetson hat.

Luthi later went on to become speaker of the Wyoming House of Representatives and director of the federal Minerals Management Service.

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The new election for Elk Mountain mayor likely won’t result in the same outcome. Even if all the same voters during the general election cast ballots again for the same candidate -- unlikely given how close the special election is to Thanksgiving -- some people have moved away since voting.

Casner said he supports holding a special election to decide the next mayor of Elk Mountain. But he said because it’s impossible to know who the one ineligible voter was or how he or she voted, there will always be uncertainty lingering from the closest election the town has ever seen.

“The question will always remain in everyone’s mind: Who really won?” he said.

Contact capital bureau reporter Jeremy Pelzer at (307) 632-1244 or jeremy.pelzer@trib.com.

Another try

A special election for Elk Mountain mayor will be held Tuesday, Nov. 23.

* Who’s eligible: All Elk Mountain residents. Town residents who aren’t currently eligible to vote may do so before the election or at the special election polls.

* Voting absentee: Elk Mountain residents may request that absentee ballots be mailed to them by calling the Carbon County clerk’s office at 1-800-250-9812 or by e-mailing county elections deputy Lisa Smith at lisasmith@carbonwy.com. Voters may also pick up absentee ballots from the county clerk’s office in person starting sometime next week.

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