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Eureka County race turns on a card

After an election, a recount and a failed court challenge, the race for clerk-treasurer in Eureka County finally came down to this: The eight of hearts is a lousy card, but the three of hearts is even lousier.

So it went on Monday afternoon, as incumbent Jackie Berg met challenger Carri Wright inside the county’s 131-year-old courthouse for a game of winner-takes-all high card.

Berg thought she had won a second term almost two months ago, when election night results showed her with a three-vote margin. A subsequent recount took two votes from Berg and gave one to Wright, resulting in a 374-374 tie.

Berg tried to contest the recount in court, but the judge tossed out her challenge because she filed it too late.

There was only one thing to do.

To break election deadlocks, state law calls for the candidates to "draw lots" to determine the winner.

Cards seem to be the game of choice for such things, though the law also allows for dice, coin tosses or drawing straws.

In rural counties with small electorates, it happens more than you might think.

In July, the queen of clubs decided a primary race for Nye County Commission. Since 2002, commission races in White Pine County and Esmeralda County have also been settled with a cut of the deck.

Eureka County is home to about 1,600 people. Eureka, 325 miles northwest of Las Vegas, is the largest town and county seat, with a population of less than 500.

Preparations for the draw took days and required input from the district attorney, assistant district attorney and the county commissioners, who took turns writing and then revising the rules.

Aces would be high, jokers removed, suits ranked.

It snowed in Eureka on Monday, but about 50 people still turned out to watch the draw, roughly five times the audience for a typical county commission meeting.

The deck of cards was picked through process of elimination — four unopened decks narrowed to one as Berg and Wright and County Commission Chairman Lenny Fiorenzi each chose one to throw away.

Then, finally, the moment of truth.

Berg and Wright stood at the conference table at front of the room, the deck fanned out in front of them.

Wright drew first but kept her choice face down. Berg picked a card and immediately flipped it over.

"I was a little disappointed," Berg later said of her high card. "But I figured if I was meant to win, I guess I could win with the eight of hearts."

Contact reporter Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350.

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