advice from a fake consultant

out-of-the-box thinking about politics, economics, and more…

On Projecting R-71’s Outcome, Or, We Visit A Political Party November 6, 2009

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.

As it happens, the voting on R-71 is rather close, which is consistent with the pre-election polling…which means at this point you’re pretty well caught up and we’re ready to move on to new business.

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.

Advertisements
 

On Living in Nature, Or, All The Weather Seems To Come Here December 4, 2007

Filed under: Flooding,Northwest,Oregon,Rain,Snow,Washington — fakeconsultant @ 5:36 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

It is reported that 2/3 of the world’s population have never seen snow-and there are times when I wish I belonged to that group.

There is great variety to be found in the accursed stuff, however, which is why the Yup’ik, in their wanderings around Southwestern Alaska, express the conditions of the snow that surrounds them in so many different ways.

For a writer who lives in the world of the Yup’ik (or for that matter, anywhere along the North American Pacific coast south to more or less Coos Bay, Oregon), there’s also a great similarity between the storms that mark daily existence and the writing process itself.

If you’ve never seen snow…or the flooding that can follow a storm…if you’re all too familiar…or if you just wondered what the heck a lexeme is…today’s conversation is for you.

For all of this to make sense, we better begin by setting the stage.

Today’s conversation, as we said, takes place along the Pacific Coast of North America. The coastline is paralleled by multiple mountain ranges: the Coast Ranges of Oregon, Washington’s Olympics, the Cascades (which bisect Oregon and Washington), the giant wrinkle in the Earth that is Vancouver Island, the fantastically complicated Pacific and Kitimat Ranges of British Columbia, and the equally fjord- and forest-studded Boundary Ranges that bring the reader into Alaska. It even reaches out to the Canadian Rockies and the headwaters of the Columbia, Yukon, Copper, and Frasier Rivers.

To paint a simple picture, much of the land in this region consists of either forested mountains upon which enormous amounts of water fall, or the lowlands through which the runoff from those mountains must flow. Around here, anything under 3000 feet (1000 meters for my world readers) doesn’t hardly count, and many peaks go well above 10,000 feet.

Trees can grow more than 300 feet (100 meters) tall.

The reason so much water falls here is because we are the first land encountered by nearly every storm moving east across the Pacific, thanks to the jet stream, which can either scoop up the warm and highly saturated Western Pacific air and transport it north from the tropics right at us (the “Pineapple Express”); or run the air north past the Aleutian Islands and from there south at us, creating…well, creating some miserable and awful weather.

The kind only a Norwegian could love.

How much water are we talking about? The National Park Service reports that parts of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula receive 140 to 167 inches of rain annually (that’s 350 to 425cm…). Forks, Washington (it’s located right at the most northwestern spot in the State) has averaged 118 inches (300cm) of rain the past 20 years-and reported over 160 inches twice in those two decades.

It’s not like Florida rain, either. Many days, it rains half an inch or less…but the sky is often gray, and there’s often a mist or drizzle (think Scotland or New Zealand or Peru). How many days? NOAA tells us that residents of Juneau, Alaska can expect an average of 223 rainy days a year (see p. 45), 193 days in Astoria, Oregon (the mouth of the Columbia River), or 208 days in Quillayute, Washington; as compared to a mere 120 days in Mobile, Alabama, the American city widely described as our rainiest.

As for Vancouver Island and the British Columbia coast?
Surfers there require a wetsuit-just for the rain.

(Quick joke-if Noah lived here, he’d say to God: “40 days…that’s not really much of a threat, you know…”)

The basic explanation for all of this is that these moisture-laden storms come blowing in off the Pacific, and the clouds are too wet and heavy to climb over the mountains-until they dump enough water to get past…then they hit the next mountains, and the process repeats…until the coast becomes a giant holding facility full of retained water. And then, depending on the temperature, you have either a giant snowpack-or the floods begin.

(Just so you know: the most snow ever around here in 12 months?
1140 inches (that is not a typo; it’s 2895cm) at Mt. Baker, Washington during the 1998-99 season.)

Sometimes we get both rain and snow.
Like the last few days.

As we touched upon a moment ago, there are many kinds of rain: the mist, the on-and-off drizzle, soupy fog, your basic downpour…and all of them can be complicated by the addition of wind, and changes in temperature. (Warm rain is an entirely different animal than cold rain, and it is hard to find weather much more miserable than windblown rain at just above freezing-unless you live on permafrost…and especially after you’ve had it every day for the past, oh, let’s say…55 days.)

And in this part of the world, it’s not uncommon to have all of this weather on the same day…with occasional sunbreaks during the rest of the week. (This week’s Port Alberni, BC, weather forecast illustrates the point nicely.)

Which brings us back to the Yup’ik and lexemes.
Lexemes, you say?

… Roughly, a lexeme can be thought of as an independent vocabulary item or dictionary entry. It’s different from a word since a lexeme can give rise to more than one distinctly inflected word. Thus English has a single lexeme speak which gives rise to inflected forms like speaks, spoke, and spoken.
–Anthony Woodbury, Counting Eskimo words for snow: A citizen’s guide

As there are many forms of rain, there are also many forms of snow; and the Yup’ik have 15 lexemes for snow and its various forms. Just as with writing, storms have a “story arc” that creates a progression of rains and snows (and the occasional “ice fog”, an especially nasty weather that turns roads into skating rinks)…and that’s really where this story is going.

The story always begins with the warnings: the actual National Weather Service and Department of Transportation alerts, and the local news, preparing us for (stealing from “The Daily Show”) The Storm Of The Century Of The Week.

And that’s what we got on Thursday: “Look out, this is gonna be a big one!”

I worked all night Thursday and as I checked the weather there was really nothing. I went to bed to gray skies and a “bare and wet” landscape.

As I awoke Friday afternoon I looked out the window and…

…snow was everywhere!

Not so deep yet (maybe 4 inches…10cm), but the big flakes were falling rapidly.
Suddenly it was 6 inches-and it’s time to make some decisions about shoveling.

There are two reasons why shoveling matters:

–If a lot of snow falls, the compression and accumulated moisture can turn the fluffy, powdery snow into “concrete”, making the process at least twice as difficult.

–If the compressed and uncleared snow refreezes, it will form a virtually impossible to remove crust of ice-making walking and driving way too exciting (amazing video-don’t miss this!) for my taste.

By now the snowflakes are alternating between larger and smaller-with the smaller flakes falling faster…but the fallen snow is still light and fluffy (powder!), so at that point, the shoveling began. It’s about 28 degrees F. (-2 C.).

There’s about 300 square feet to be cleared, 6 inches deep (15cm), and lots more falling, even as I shovel. Well, to be accurate, I’m pushing the snow at this point, because it’s still light and easy to move.

My current snow shovel is my favorite ever: about a foot wide (30cm), thick, plastic (aluminum shovels always seem to bend at the corners or the rivets fail-I hate that), and able to easily slide, even full of the heaviest snow. The less you lift the better in this job, so sliding the full shovel as much as possible is a good thing. Of course, at some point you still have to lift the snow to remove it, but as of now that’s not a big problem.

After half an hour or so a good third of the work is done; and it’s time for a break. The snow is still powdery, and it’s changing from big, fluffy flakes to an icier, more granular flake. Not an ice pellet…but instead more like the difference between sorbet and granite. Still 26-28 degrees F.

Only the snow is still falling, and there’s a covering over the “cleared” driveway.

For those who have never been to the snow, there’s a process of jacket removal that must be observed.

Did some work inside-and now there’s 8 inches on the ground…including almost 2 inches over the “cleared area”. But it’s still fluffy, so the reclearing goes very fast…but the rest of the driveway now has 8 inches to remove, and the snow is turning into tiny ice pellets, then back to small flakes, then back to large, for more or less the next 3 to 4 hours. At this point, about ¾ inch per hour (almost 2cm) is falling.

The next portion of the driveway’s snow is not as light as the first area; the compression having its effect and moisture accumulating in the snowmass…but it’s still not too bad, because it’s not yet raining.

After another hour it’s time for another break…and I’m just past 50%.
It’s medium heavy snow, and now it’s hard work.

I’ve been listening to an old-school country playlist as I work; and the falling snow makes a great counterpoint to Kitty Wells and Merle Travis…but the last song is the new school “Texas” from Willie Nelson, so it’s break time.

There’s 9 inches now, according to my handy ruler stuck in the snow on the barbrque. It’s no longer so granular, as the weather has begun to warm-and the snow is now heavy to lift. The last 10 feet or so are the hardest, as mixed rain and snow are falling.

By the time the snow is cleared, a foot has fallen (30cm), but the rain is picking up…and by the time I’m writing this (24 hours after the shoveling ended)-and the temperature has risen 20 degrees to the 40s F., and it was over 50 degrees F. (10 C.) during the afternoon.

The wind has become huge…with gusts above 100 mph (160 km) reported in multiple locations. It never stopped blowing all night, and it’s still blowing as the sun comes up.

And the rain never stopped-in fact, near legendary amounts (almost 14”-that’s 35 cm-in Bremerton, Washington for example) have fallen in the last 48 hours wreaking havoc over the area-all rivers in the Western Washington are threatening to flood or have already, the Governor of Oregon has declared an emergency (and road closures have virtually cut the Oregon Coast off from any access to the interior), and I have just heard Washington’s Governor has done the same.

I-5, the main north-south highway running from Vancouver, BC to Tijuana, Mexico (connecting Seattle, Portland, Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego) is under an estimated 8 to 9 feet (3 meters) of water; and will not be passable for a currently unknown length of time. The water is 5 feet above any previous record.

The only available detours are so circuitous that the trip from Seattle to Portland (normally 160 miles one way) is now 275 miles longer-requiring a trip to Yakima, and making a one way trip over 400 miles (640 km).

Roads are literally falling off hillsides. (Click on the “Slideshow” link.)

Helicopters have been performing rescues since yesterday.

One of our favorite restaurants, the Ranch House BBQ, located outside Olympia, Washington has been destroyed, we have just been told (click on the “Mudslide Destroys Olympia Restaurant” link).

Our godson (the one who did not join the military) and his parents live in an exceptionally hard-hit area, Gray’s Harbor County, who are at this mooment some of the 80,000 without power-and the projections are that it will remain that way for them for at least a week. They are right at the Pacific coast, and there are so many downed trees that there’s going to be enough free firewood for at least two cold winters, for those lucky enough to grab it up.

It is an amazing story, but I’m going to stop at this point, do some actual newsgathering, and see what I can report as the day develops.

I’ll leave you with this thought: when we began we discussed the similarity between the arc of the storm and the arc of the story…and there could not be a better example of that than the story that is arcing before us even as we speak.

Stay tuned…and if I have useful updates I’ll post them here.