There are about three hundred people present for the annual lottery in this town. Everyone is there except a man named Clyde Dunbar who is at home with a broken leg. Everyone without exception is required to participate in the lottery, including little Davy Hutchinson who is only about two years old. There are never any slips with people's names on them. All the slips of paper are totally blank except for one which has a big black spot. Whoever finally ends up drawing that slip will, of course, be stoned to death.
The lottery consists of two rounds. The first drawing is to select the household of the person to be sacrificed. There are about three hundred people present, as the narrator says, but they probably belong to not more than a hundred households at most--possibly as few as around sixty or seventy. (If there was an average of, say, four persons to a household, then there would be seventy-five slips in the box for the first round.) So there would be one slip with a black mark in the black box and fewer than a hundred other slips that were completely blank. The male heads of households are called up by name in alphabetical order by Mr. Summers reading from a list. It turns out that Bill Hutchinson draws the slip with the black mark.
Now there will be a second drawing to determine which member of the Hutchinson household gets stoned to death. What is important here is that Mr. Summers asks his assistant Mr. Graves:
"Harry, you got their tickets back?"
It is obviously essential that all the blank slips be collected from all the heads of households. This is to forestall the possibility that some member of the chosen family might pick up a blank slip and substitute it for the one with the black mark if he or she should draw it.
Harry Graves collects all the blank slips and places four blanks plus the one with the black mark back in the box. Still there are never any names in the box, only the fatal one and four blanks. Tessie is terrified. She begins protesting as soon as her husband shows that he has drawn the black spot, but no one pays her any attention. Even her husband says, "Shut up, Tessie."
There are five members of the Hutchinson household: Bill, Tessie, Bill Jr., Nancy, and little Davy. It is Tessie who draws the fatal slip. If she had been able to get hold of a blank slip someone had tossed away, she seems capable of switching them. But that would disrupt the lottery. Graves knew he put one slip with a big black spot in the box along with four blank ones. They might have to make the Hutchinsons draw all over again, and in that case Tessie might be saved, although her husband or one of her three children would be doomed.
The author describes what happens to all the slips after the first drawing.
Mr. Graves had selected the five slips and put them in the box, and he dropped all the papers but those onto the ground, where the breeze caught them and lifted them off.
Most of the people in the crowd are vastly relieved to see the papers flying away like a flock of little white birds. They are saved for another year because their households were not chosen. But they stay where they are in order to see who in the Hutchinson household will get the slip with the black spot and also in order to participate in the stoning. Approximately two hundred and ninety-nine people will stone one person to death. There would be no chance for any of the Hutchinsons to get hold of one of those other blank slips of paper even if the idea occurred to one of them.