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Flip of a coin decides south suburban trustee race: ‘Crazy from start to finish’

Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough flips a coin to decide a tied Sauk Village trustee race as candidates Gary T. Bell and Trustee Beth Zupon watch. Photo by Rachel Hinton.

Luck is always a part of politics, but on Tuesday it was all two south suburban trustee candidates had left, having no choice but to pin their hopes on the toss of a coin.

Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough broke a tie in the Sauk Village trustee race the only way Illinois law will allow: with the flip of a coin.

Challenger Gary T. Bell called tails, winning the toss — and the seat. He was shaking after the decision was announced.

“It was crazy from start to finish,” he said.

Before she tossed the hefty 1899 silver dollar into the air, Yarbrough admitted she was glad it wasn’t her fate being decided that way.

“I would not want to be in their position,” Yarbrough said. “And when you think in terms of whether your vote counts or not, ask these folks but ultimately the voters are the ones who have the power and every vote matters.”

Bell faced sitting trustee Beth Zupon in the April election but, with only 9.3 percent of registered voters turning out, the two tied, receiving 288 votes each for the trustee spot.

“I’ll do the best I can for all the residents,” Bell said. “I did it because there were only two people running at first and I couldn’t just give it to them — and they’re my friends, they’ve been my friends for two years, but you know what? That’s how you keep an honest person honest.”

Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough and Sauk Village trustee candidates Gary T. Bell and Beth Zupon look down at the silver dollar that decided the tied race. Photo by Rachel Hinton.
Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough and Sauk Village trustee candidates Gary T. Bell and Beth Zupon look down at the silver dollar that decided the tied race. Photo by Rachel Hinton.

This is Bell’s first run for office. He said he intends to work with Zupon and his new colleagues to “bring [Sauk Village] back to what it used to be.”

The voter turnout was a record low for the village, Zupon said. As for her political career being decided by a coin flip, Zupon said she obviously wasn’t happy about it but “we have to all find a way to get everybody to care about what goes on in our community … I’ll be back out here in two years fighting for it again.”

It’s the first time a coin toss has decided a race in Sauk Village, Zupon said, but not the first time the method has been used to decide a suburban race.

The last three times election ties in suburban Cook County were broken with a coin flip were in 2013 (Stickney Trustee), 2011 (Berwyn School District 98 and Broadview Trustee) and 2007 (Bedford Park Trustee).

Yarbrough said the old coin-toss process is “what we have. … It’s in the law.”

“There’s all kinds of ways to do this, one of them would be to get more people to vote in elections so we don’t have this to happen,” Yarbrough said. “This is not quite the way we would like it to be, however, when it happens we have to be able to resolve it.”