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Sometimes it's just like in the cartoons - you're sitting there minding your own business, and suddenly the light bulb goes on - an idea!

This time it happened watching the TV and hearing about Penny Pullen and Rosemary Mulligan. Penny Pullen is a state legislator from Illinois, a 14-year veteran. Rosemary Mulligan was her challenger in the Republican primary last March. When all the ballots were counted (and counted, and counted again), Pullen had 7,387 votes. Mulligan, on the other hand, had 7,387 votes. A tie.In most states, when there's a tie, there's a runoff. Illinois isn't most states. The law in Illinois provides that when there's a tie, the Board of Elections holds a lottery; it doesn't say what kind. So there on the TV the other night was the interesting spectacle of a silver dollar spinning through the air, heading toward a carpet. Mulligan (or Mulligan's lawyer, actually) has "tails." "Tails" it is. Mulligan wins.

That's right: They tossed a coin to break the tie. And that's when the light bulb went on. Why not do that everywhere? Instead of going to all the time and expense of extra elections to settle things, why not just toss a coin and be done with it?

Kind of like football, only without the football game. But at least in football, the game is vaguely entertaining. In politics, it's anything but, unless your taste in entertainment runs to demolition derbies. It's mean and nasty and expensive. It also goes on forever. Skip the campaign and go directly to the coin toss, though, and you get rid of all that.

No more working the phones years in advance, glad-handing the fat cats, squeezing the juice out of contributors. No more kissing babies and wearing silly hats. No media advisers, no ad campaigns, not a single strategist anywhere in sight. What good would they do, when the whole shebang is going to be decided by chance anyway? It'll work for state legislatures; it'll work for Congress and the White House, too, even if they choose to hang on to some of the trappings.

"Welcome to ABC's comprehensive coverage of the all-important, first-in-the-nation Iowa coin toss. Let's go to Sam, standing by in Des Moines."

"It's `heads,' Peter - Noobish by a landslide. Back to you."

"Thanks, Sam. That wraps it up for ABC's comprehensive coverage of . . ."

You get the idea. Wouldn't that be a relief? Sure, coin-toss elections might toss a few good people out on the street as well. But new blood isn't the worst thing that can happen to a place. Besides, the way things work now, even the good people can't do much good, not when they're so busy positioning themselves for the next election (and then the election after that) and scared to death that anything they say or do is going to turn up in a 30-second spot somewhere.

Go to the coin toss, and none of that will matter. You may even get more good people running for office in the first place, people who wouldn't touch the current setup with a 10-foot poll.