Marshfield, November 1916: Heads or tails
A tied election is decided by a coin flip
By Kris Leonhardt
Casting lots is a practice as old as biblical times when “the lot fell on Matthias” to replace Judas. The procedure was created to deliver an impartial and unbiased decision on an important or uncertain situation.
Methods include drawing straws, throwing dice, and — most common in our time — flipping a coin. The flip of a coin has begun many sporting events and determined many contentious confrontations in the past, and in 1916 it decided a local election.
As the November election drew near, only two candidates were in the hunt for the Wood County register of deeds.
Incumbent John A. Hoffman had served just one term in the office. With a stellar record, the former mayor of Marshfield was a promising candidate for the Democratic Party.
Running on the Republican ticket was Henry Ebbe. Born and raised in the town of Lincoln, the town chairman, at just a little over 30 years of age, had also established a solid record and garnered many supporters.
The day after the Nov. 7 election it appeared that Hoffman would be edged out of the seat. With only 49 votes separating the two, it looked as if Ebbe would be taking the position that January. However, when the ballots from the Marshfield area’s Company A came in, the vote looked a whole lot closer.
Tallying the votes from the service members, Hoffman gained 34 more votes, cutting Ebbe’s lead to just 15. Due to numbers that close, Hoffman asked for a recount.
With two attorneys for each candidate present, two recounts were carried out with a different candidate leading each time. During the recount, all original ballots that were deemed invalid were resubmitted and scrutinized with each count performed.
Finally, the results were officially announced the following Saturday evening. It was a tie. After reviewing the laws regarding the situation, it was determined that the race must be decided by casting lots.
As Lady Liberty flew through the air that day, the two men held their breath knowing that the results rested solely on chance. When the silver dollar hit the floor, it was the Lady that they gazed upon.
The following week newspaper headlines all over central Wisconsin proclaimed that the Republican Ebbe had obtained one of the chief county offices by the flip of a coin.