Zepeda Wins in Game of Chance Tiebreaker for Richmond Council Seat

The city chose to put both candidates' names in random, sealed envelopes. Zepeda's was the chosen one.

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The luck of the draw was with Cesar Zepeda on Tuesday morning.

To break a tie in last month's election to represent District 2 on the Richmond City Council, Zepeda won in a drawing of sealed envelopes Tuesday morning in the council chambers.

Weeks after Election Night, Zepeda was tied with Andrew Butt, the son of Mayor Tom Butt. Both finished with 1,921 votes when the counting was done last week. Butt held the early lead on Election Night and during ensuing weeks, but Zepeda closed the gap just before the final count.

While the Contra Costa County Elections Department does the counting, the city of Richmond retains the right to break any ties through a "game of chance," which is allowed by state election code.

The city chose to put both candidates' names in random, sealed envelopes. Zepeda's was the chosen one.

And just like that, months of campaigning and weeks of nail biting came to a close. The outcome a little tough to swallow for Butt.

“I’m not feeling great,” he said. “I’d like to say that’s democracy in action. I’m not sure that really applies to the luck of the draw. Yeah it’s pretty surreal.”

“He did not lose. We both won,” said Zepeda. “We both won the support of our district. We both have the thumbs up from the community.”

The bizarre tie breaker was necessary because each candidate received exactly 1,921 votes in the November election. According to a Richmond city resolution, that meant a drawing would determine the winner.

A Richmond city councilman has been selected in a very unusual democratic process. Two candidates got the exact same number of votes, but the outcome was ultimately decided by a draw. Kris Sanchez reports.

“The city clerk should place the name of each candidate in a sealed, unmarked envelope in case the vote is broken by lot,” said Christian. 

Zepeda said he hopes to work with Butt to unify the community as the new city council member. He says the election is historic on many levels, including the reason behind his choice of lucky charms. 

“I am the first openly gay man to serve on the council,” said Zepeda. “So I brought my rainbows with me. I brought my little unicorn and my socks love is love I want to be able to lead our community with the mindset we can be different, but if our goals are to make our community better, we can whether you’re a gay man or a straight person we can do it together.”

Butt also wore some lucky charms, that weren’t so lucky 

“I wore my lucky jeans, my lucky boxers, even a lucky jade necklace, but it didn’t work out. I won’t be buying a lottery ticket today,” said Butt.

Butt says he’ll weigh options on potentially challenging the outcome. Both men agree there are lessons to be learned from the process. 

“If you’re ever at home, thinking, ‘my vote doesn’t matter because I am one,’” said Zepeda. “One person can, and will make a difference.”

“I’d hope the outcome and the publicity it’s gotta, at least demonstrate your vote certainly doesn’t matter because one more vote in either direction, and we wouldn’t be dry names from an envelope,” said Butt.

The final count concluded Thursday after 11 ballots were added to the mix when voters fulfilled a county request to verify signatures. Nine of the votes were added in Richmond, as two voters didn't fill out their choice for District 2.

The race was close enough to prompt county election officials to go back and recount votes by hand, as part of the required state audit of at least 1% of precincts.

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