BISMARCK — For the first time in 26 years, a new chief justice will preside over the North Dakota Supreme Court, but a vote tally Monday, Nov. 25, revealed none of the three candidates received a majority. Now, a runoff election will determine which of the top two vote-getters, Justices Lisa McEvers or Jon Jensen, will take the seat in the middle of the state's highest court.

The court's five justices and state's 52 district court judges were tasked with deciding who will take over the top spot from current Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle, 86, who announced in September he will not pursue the top spot but will stay on the court. He has served in the role since 1993 and on the court since 1978.

McEvers, Jensen and Justice Daniel Crothers were vying for the spot, but Crothers, the longest tenured of the three, was eliminated from contention by a single vote. State court administrator Sally Holewa read out the results in the Judicial Wing of the State Capitol in Bismarck.

The final tally had McEvers with 20 votes, Jensen with 19 and Crothers 18. The runoff will move ahead since no candidate received a majority, or 29 votes. Holewa joked it was "a hung jury."

A run-off will move ahead with McEvers and Jensen since no candidate received a majority, or 29 votes. Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service
A run-off will move ahead with McEvers and Jensen since no candidate received a majority, or 29 votes. Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

Ballots will again go out to the justices and district court judges on Friday, Nov 29, and they will have 10 days to vote. A winner will be announced in mid-December, and the new chief justice will be sworn into the position on the court's first work day after Jan. 1, 2020, Holewa said.

State court administrator Sally Holewa (right) opens ballots as executive assistant Lana Zimmerman tallies votes in the Judicial Wing of the State Capitol on Monday, Nov. 25, 2019. Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service
State court administrator Sally Holewa (right) opens ballots as executive assistant Lana Zimmerman tallies votes in the Judicial Wing of the State Capitol on Monday, Nov. 25, 2019. Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

McEvers would be the first woman to take the top spot on the court.

Jensen was appointed by Gov. Doug Burgum in 2017, McEvers was appointed by then-Gov. Jack Dalrymple in 2014 and Crothers was appointed by then-Gov. John Hoeven in 2005. Justice Jerod Tufte was the only justice who did not express interest in the position.

The chief justice is elected every five years unless his or her term ends before the regular term is up.