Over the past few days we have been talking about Washington State’s Referendum 71, which was voted on this week. If passed, the Referendum will codify in law certain protections for same-sex couples.
In the first story of our three-part series we discussed Washington’s unusual vote-by-mail system; in the second we examined the pre-election polling.
Today we talk about what happened Election Night at the R-71 event and where the vote count stands today…and where it might end up when we’re all done.
We have lots of geeky electoral analysis ahead—and as a special bonus, we have video of the event, including an exclusive interview with Charlene Strong, the woman who became one of the icons of the pro-71 campaign.
It’s a lot to cover, so we better get right to it.
The Big “Catch-Up”
If you are new to this story, we’ll give you a real quick “catch-up”:
On Tuesday’s ballot Washington voters were asked to consider Referendum 71, which is going to decide whether E2SSB 5688 (passed by the Legislature and “[e]xpanding the rights and responsibilities of state registered domestic partners”) shall be allowed to go into effect. (E2SSB, by the way, stands for “Engrossed Second Senate Substitute Bill”.)
Voting to approve means the bill will go into law, voting to reject will prevent the bill from having any force or effect under law.
Washington State votes almost entirely by mail, and all ballots postmarked by midnight, November 3rd will be counted. Since lots of voters put their ballots in the mail on November 3rd (myself included), that means, when things are close, that the outcome of any particular question might not be known on Election Day.
About 2/3 of Washington’s population of 6.8 million is concentrated in the Western portion of the State; 3.5 million of those residents live in just three counties: King, Pierce, and Snohomish (Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett being the largest cities in those counties). 25% of the State’s population (1.9 million) resides in King County.
Clark County, which is immediately adjacent to Portland, Oregon (largest city: Vancouver), is slightly smaller in population than Eastern Washington’s largest county, Spokane, which has a population of roughly 450,000.
The morning sun rose above the Cascades and reflected its dusky orange glow off the bottom of the thin clouds Wednesday morning, enveloping those who were awake with a blanket of soothing daylight.
The night before, however, supporters of same-sex marriage had gathered, in their goat leggings and leather, to engage in a horrifying bacchanal involving the setting of bonfires, the invocation of incantations, and the sacrifices of—
Well, actually, none of that ever happened…but it sounded like a lot of fun, didn’t it?
What Actually Happened
Instead, a crowd of roughly 250 gathered at Seattle’s Pravda Studios to wait for the results. The event was quite upbeat before results were announced, and that mood was reinforced when it was announced that seven Western Washington counties, including King County, were voting to approve the Referendum.
I was lucky enough to get some insight as to how that happened when I interviewed Charlene Strong, who tragically lost her partner three years ago. Her face and her story have figured prominently in this campaign—but as she pointed out to me, the seeds of whatever happens in this election were planted years ago:
…”…the citizens of Washington State…put a Governor in place that is all about equality and a Legislative team that is all about equality and I feel very proud tonight to be a citizen of Washington State, and I’m sure I’ll be feeling that way for quite some days to come…”
(I am not, and have never been, a camera operator for the MTV Networks. Instead, I’m still getting used to my little Flip Video camera…which is why much of the interview appears to have been conducted with the most gracious Ms. Strong’s shoulder. Mea culpa.)
Numbers, Numbers, Numbers
And with the stage having been set, let’s get geeky:
Washington’s Secretary of State keeps track of statewide ballot measures (including verifying the petition signatures), and it is on their site where we will find statewide results. At the moment (the moment being 6:24 PM, November 4th) 593,956 voters have voted to approve and 556,090 voted to reject, which means R-71 is leading 51.65-48.35%.
Ballots representing almost 33% of the State’s voters have been counted so far, and it is estimated that 394,482 ballots are on hand, around the State, waiting to be counted.
Here’s how the five largest counties are shaping up:
King County Elections reports that R-71 is passing by a 66-33% margin (202,125 to 101,403), with a total of 438,557 votes having been received so far from the County’s 1,079,842 registered voters. These numbers tell us that 135,029 votes are currently on hand, waiting to be counted. (63,446 votes came in today.)
It is likely that 90,000 of those uncounted votes are going to be “approved” votes, based on current trends. If a similar number of votes came in tomorrow, roughly 40,000 more votes would be “approve votes”, suggesting as many as 130,000 more “approved” votes could be waiting to be tallied up.
(Based on these numbers, we already know that King County will exceed the 51% statewide turnout rate that the Secretary of State projected before the election.)
Snohomish County Elections reports that 101,737 votes have been received so far, with 45,000 votes currently uncounted. Voters are approving the measure, but with a much closer margin: 51.72-48.28% (51,222-47,809). The remaining 45,000 votes should add about 1,000 votes to R-71’s lead.
We do not know how many votes were received today by the County, but if we assume that 50% of the total number of votes were in the mail in Election Day, then another 50,000 or so votes should be still on the way, which should also increase R-71’s lead by about 1,000 votes, if current trends hold.
(If we assume that the County will achieve a 50% turnout rate, roughly 40,000 Ballots should be in the mail, which only adds 800 additional votes, not the 1,000 estimated in the precious paragraph.)
The Pierce County Auditor reports that 90,367 votes are in, and the “rejected” votes are leading, 47,307 (53.08%) to 41,809 (46.92%). The estimate is that 50,000 ballots remain to be counted. 60,000 additional votes would be needed for the County to reach a 50% turnout rate, and if you projected that 110,000 votes onto the current trend the “approve 71” final vote should decline by about 6,500 votes.
Clark County Elections indicates that R-71 is losing there as well, with 36,206 (46.01%) voting to approve and 42,481 (53.99%) voting to reject. 13,000 ballots are reported to be uncounted. Clark County has 215,626 registered voters, and based on these numbers it would take an additional 14,450 votes to get to a 50% turnout. That suggests the “approve R-71” vote should decline by about another 2,000 votes.
Finally, Spokane County. There are 257,092 registered voters in the County, and they came out against R-71 in a big way, with 38,079 (39.98%) voting to approve and 57,169 (60.02%) voting to reject. The estimate is that 35,000 votes remain to be counted, and it’s likely those votes will decrease the “approve R-71” lead by about 6,000 votes.
The County has exceeded 50% turnout, and we do not know how many votes arrived today. If we assume 60% turnout, another 25,000 votes would be in the mail, reducing the “approve R-71” lead by another 5,000 votes.
The Big “Wrap-Up”
So what does all this mean?
How about this: I have forever told people that if the candidate or measure you support can win, with a reasonable margin, in Washington’s five largest counties, you’re gonna win the election.
With that in mind, let’s tally up the numbers and see where we are:
The King County tally, by my guess, will add another 130,000 “approved” votes to the statewide total. Snohomish County voters could add 2,000 more votes. Pierce, Clark, and Spokane Counties should reduce the “approve” votes by about 14,500 votes.
Add it all up, and I’m estimating that R-71 could gain 117,500 votes…but that number will certainly go down because of the votes of the rest of the State…so if I had to guess (and I guess I am) I would project that R-71 is going to pass with a margin of victory somewhere in the range of 80-100,000 votes, as opposed to the current margin of roughly 37,000 votes.
There are lots of caveats here: the estimates of incoming ballots could be off, the 50% turnout estimate could be inaccurate, and currently uncounted votes might not follow the trends of the votes counted so far.
Additionally, I will freely admit that I’m biased: I support R-71 (and to take it further, if same-sex couples want to marry…as long as I don’t have to buy all of them presents, I don’t see the problem), and this bias could be affecting my judgment.
So that’s today’s story: based on the return data that is known, and my own guess on what’s likely, I’m going way out on the proverbial limb and projecting that R-71 wins by somewhere between 80-100,000 votes, primarily on the strength of the uncounted King County vote and an estimate of votes that will arrive over the next 48 hours.
As with any modeling project, there are a lot of potential problems that might affect the model’s output—including my own biases—but I feel good about this estimate, and over the next week or so, we’ll see if I’m right.
Additionally, we got to have an inside look at the “process” of R-71…and we got to have an exclusive conversation with Charlene Strong’s shoulder—which, I promise, will become a “teachable moment” for yours truly as we grow, going forward, from a “words only” storytelling service into a video storytelling service.
It’s a great place to end Part Three—and it leaves us perfectly positioned to move on to a discussion of what we can learn from Tuesday’s skirmishes—but for now I have to go and strap on the goat leggings and get back to work.
After all, the doomed won’t sacrifice themselves, will they?
UPDATE: 11/05/09, 8 PM PST
After looking at tonight’s numbers, I’m now thinking that the margin of victory will be closer to 30-35,000, rather than 80-100,000.
This is because King County now has only 13,800 uncounted votes, far fewer than I predicted. However, I also checked to see if my own ballot packet had arrived, and it has not. This tells us there are an unknown number of ballots that were mailed on Election Day but have not yet arrived.
An additional clue? Turnout is currently reported at 34.93% for King County, which is 15% below the projected State average. If we assume the County will make that 50% turnout number, that means 150,000 ballots are currently unaccounted for…in a County that’s voting 2:1 in favor of the Referendum.
If that many votes do turn up, my 80-100,000 vote margin of victory estimate will again be looking pretty good.
The other big question mark is Pierce County. They report 50,000 uncounted votes–but that is also the exact number they reported yesterday, which makes me think that estimate might be…shall we say, inaccurate?
Snohomish County is now also reporting 56,000 uncounted votes, but they are running something like 52-48%, and as a result I don’t expect those uncounted voted to affect the outcome in any significant way.
Spokane County reports 15,000 uncounted votes, and they are voting 60-40% against, which should reduce the margin of victory by about 10,000 votes.
Clark County has 750 uncounted votes, and they are also trending against, but near 50-50, so even if a lot of votes do come in, the effect should be minimal either way.
The quick summary?
I’m now highly confident that R-71 will win. The margin could be as low as 30-35,000 or as high as my original 80-100,000 estimate if all those King County votes come in.
I don’t think the votes in the other counties are going to change the outcome–and while it’s not yet official, I think you can start to maybe breathe just a bit easier.