Call it democracy, Vegas style.
North Las Vegas’ primary election finally ended Thursday night with a high-stakes game of cards at City Hall.
Two City Council hopefuls who had tied for second place in the April 5 primary stood at a podium draped in green felt and drew cards to determine who would advance to the general election.
Both candidates pulled diamonds. But Linda Meisenheimer, a property manager, proved the luckier, drawing a king. Tanya Flanagan, a web content administrator for Clark County, drew a five.
“That was surreal,” Meisenheimer said afterward. “Now it’s back to work.”
Meisenheimer and Flanagan each garnered 328 votes in the primary for the Ward 2 seat being vacated by term-limited Councilman William Robinson. Meisenheimer will face Pamela Goynes-Brown, an assistant principal who took home 425 votes, in the June 7 general election.
About 75 people and at least a dozen members of the media gathered for the event.
Robinson, who presided over the card draw, announced the five-minute process “crazy as hell.”
David Hernandez, director of College of Southern Nevada’s casino management program, presented the deck, removed the jokers, shuffled and fanned the cards across the podium.
Hernandez, a Cuban immigrant and naturalized U.S. citizen, brought several family members, including two grandchildren, to watch.
“I am totally ecstatic to have the opportunity to be part of the election process,” he said.
Flanagan drew first because her name appeared first on the ballot.
When it was clear Meisenheimer had won, her supporters erupted in cheers and applause.
“I was just calm and peaceful,” Meisenheimer said. “I knew whichever way it went was meant to be.”
Flanagan said it was unfortunate something so important was decided by “the luck of the draw.”
“It’s an antiquated system,” she said. “But I wish both ladies luck. This shows people everywhere your vote does count.”
State law dictates that election ties be decided “by lot,” which in Nevada traditionally means the candidates draw for high card.
Such ties typically happen in rural areas with small electorates. It happened twice in Nevada last year: first in a primary race for Nye County Commission, then to break a tie for clerk-treasurer of Eureka County. Both were ties for first place.
Larry Lomax, Clark County registrar of voters, said he did not remember such a tie for second place.
A tie in North Las Vegas was made more likely because of low voter turnout. Only 6,637 people cast votes in the primary, 9.2 percent of the city’s registered active voters.
Because council members in the city are not elected at-large, which means only residents of the specific wards up for election can vote for their representatives, turnout in the city’s two council races was even smaller.
In Ward 2, 1,584 votes were cast.
Goynes-Brown, who was at City Hall for the event, said she was disappointed by the low turnout.
It had been difficult not knowing who her opponent would be.
“Both candidates were good candidates,” she said. “Waiting was the hardest part.”
Whoever is elected will join the council at a difficult time for the cash-strapped city, which in recent years has undergone several rounds of budget cuts, service reductions and layoffs.
The city faces a $22.6 million shortfall in fiscal year 2012.
Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0285.