Coin toss: Two-term councilman keeps his seat on Alta Town Council
Vote • Says winner of tiebreaker, "It seems like such a crass way to end an election."
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Alta • It was a high noon showdown Monday for a seat on Alta's Town Council. Weeks in the making, it was over in an instant.

Challenger Merebea Danforth called "tails" as Alta Mayor Tom Pollard tossed the 1976 Eisenhower silver dollar in the air. But it landed heads up, and two-term Town Councilman Steven "Piney" Gilman was elected to a third term.

The 27-year-old Danforth, who has lived in Alta full-time for four years, chose the coin toss as the way to reconcile an election result knotted at 60 votes each.

Under Utah law, such ties are broken by "drawing lots," which can mean throwing dice, cutting cards or even rock-paper-scissors.

"It seems like such a crass way to end an election," said Gilman, who has been a ski patrolman at Alta since the 1979-80 ski season. "I'm sorry it went down to that," he told Danforth at the Town Hall meeting where the coin toss took place and was made official.

But the challenger took the loss in stride and managed a smile. "It's disappointing, but I respect Piney and know he will do well for the town," she said.

There were two seats up for election this fall in Alta. Harris Sondak was the top vote-getter with 74. Gilman and Danforth were vying for second place and the remaining open seat.

The vote was recounted by Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen, who confirmed last week the two were in a dead heat.

Many of Alta's 386 full-time residents were puzzled by the law to break election ties, said Piper Lever, assistant town clerk.

"People were a little disappointed that it won't be decided by votes," she said. "And they've been impatient to see who will be the next council person."

The mayor assured those present Monday that a coin toss was within Utah statute.

"Here at Alta, we strain to do everything right," he said. "As silly as it may seem, we followed the law today."

It was Danforth's first bid for elective office. She ran what she called a "low-profile" campaign and said she had no "major" regrets.

Danforth sought the seat because she thinks "it's important we have some younger voices on the council."

For Gilman, who took a short break from his patrol duties for Monday's meeting, it comes down to civic involvement. "When you live in a town and work in a town, you have to take some of the responsibility for running the town."

csmart@sltrib.com