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Do Washington State Democrats Have A Labor Problem? Let’s Ask Jay Inslee July 7, 2011

OK: so I’ve been working what is, on one level, a Jay Inslee story (Inslee is the Congressman from Washington’s 1st District, now running for Governor in ’12), and, on another level, a story of why Democrats are having all kinds of problems with what should be “natural” constituencies – and why those problems might not be going away anytime soon.

I thought the two elements of this narrative would come together last Monday, when I attended the “announcement event” that marked the beginning of the Inslee Gubernatorial Campaign, and in fact they did…but it wasn’t in a way I would have expected, and that’s why we have something to talk about today.

I reached out to some helpful outside voices, including Inslee himself; all of that will be brought to the discussion – and as another news organization famously offers to do, I’ll report, and leave you to decide.

Krusty the Klown: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Good evening. Tonight my guest is AFL/CIO chairman George Meany, who will be discussing collective bargaining agreements

George Meaney: It’s a pleasure to be here, Krusty

Krusty the Klown: Let me be blunt: is there a Labor crisis in America today?

George Meaney: Well that depends what you mean by crisis…

–From “The Simpsons” episode S06E01, Bart of Darkness

So here’s what I know: Jay Inslee brings to the contest for Governor a Congressional voting record that could be great news for Washington State’s Progressive community: he’s generally supportive of LBGT and other civil rights issues, he seems to support the sort of elections I like (clean ones), he’s very much interested in a “next generation” energy and environmental policy, and he voted against the TARP Program (that’s the bank bailout that was passed in the last months of the Bush Administration) and the extension of the Patriot Act.

All good stuff.

But I also know this: if you are a State worker in Washington State, you are under attack, and you have been for some time now – and among the attackers are members of the Democratic Party – and the reason I’m so personally familiar with this fact is because The Girlfriend is one of those workers (she’s a nurse working within the Division of Developmental Disabilities, and she has been for more than 15 years), and I’ve seen it with my own two eyes.

And I know that for these workers, each year the question becomes: “This year’s wage cuts: in cash, by jacking the cost of health care, or through furlough days?”

This sort of problem extends to workers all across the State, as business interests target the State’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) and Industrial Insurance programs for attack, to give just two examples of recent legislative battles.

And the State’s Unions are reacting: I had a back and forth with Kathy Cummings (she’s the Communications Director for WSLC, the Washington State Labor Council), who confirmed what I thought I’d been seeing: that since 2009 there has been an effort by the WSLC to bring the fight to Washington State Democrats, including a successful effort to unseat State Senator Jean Berkey, who was targeted, according to Cummings, because of her votes on UI, public education and health care, pollution laws, and tax policy, which the WSLC viewed as favoring corporate interests.

2009, by the way, was a watershed year for this State’s Labor unions, as that was the year Washington Democratic leaders actually called in the State Patrol to investigate whether internal discussions about whether to withhold future campaign contributions if those Democrats didn’t get more cooperative was some sort of criminal act.

As a result, the WSLC formed the DIME PAC (DIME, of course, is an acronym; Don’t Invest in More Excuses, to be specific); this and other Labor-associated PACs are apparently acting as any PAC can, much to the chagrin of Democrats and business interests alike, including what appears to have been a controversial decision to promote a Republican in Berkey’s primary in order to knock her out of the contest early. (Washington uses a “top-two” primary system to determine who gets to the general election, and Berkey came in number three.)

And sure enough, Democrats do appear to be less than supportive: Unions held two rallies this spring at the State Capitol in Olympia, both of which I attended – and I couldn’t help but notice that Washington State Democrats weren’t up on the dais talking about how much they supported those workers gathered just outside.

In fact, the only elected Democrat I saw on either stage, in March or April, speaking to the crowds was State Senator Spencer Coggs…who is a Wisconsin State Senator. (Kathy Cummings helpfully points out that, despite what I thought, about 20 Democrats were introduced by name and were somewhere around the stage at various times during the April event to show support – and you’ll want to keep that in mind as we go along.)

So here’s what I’m thinking as I’m on my way to attend Jay Inslee’s announcement and presser last Monday: Inslee is presumably aware of this history, and if he were to become Washington State’s top elected Democrat he would presumably want to act in a manner that heals that rift…which would be a pretty good story to report to a Progressive audience.

That is not how it turned out.

ME: “I attended two Labor rallies in Olympia over the past couple of months; the only Democratic elected official who seemed to be able to get out and speak to the crowd was from Wisconsin, Spencer Copps, State Senator [which was an error; I should have said Spencer Coggs]. I wondered what you think about that and what are you going to do to try to change it?”

INSLEE: “Well, I’m not sure what you’re referring to…”

ME: “Well, you mentioned honoring unions…”

INSLEE: “I’m sorry…”

ME: “Well, you mentioned honoring unions, these folks were out trying to promote union rights, but Democrats don’t seem to want to get out and support union rights in person. Do you see that as a problem; how would you like to change it?”

INSLEE: “I don’t see this as a problem, because I believe as I said I fundamentally believe in work, I fundamentally believe in workers, and I fundamentally believe that people have collective bargaining rights as an organized group, and I think what has gone on in Wisconsin is a travesty, and the reason it’s a travesty is that, uh, Governor Walker, if he wanted to be angry at someone, he shouldn’t have been angry at the first grade teachers, he should have been angry at the Wall Street investment bankers whose greed was responsible for the economic collapse, and yet I saw the Governor turn his sights on the middle class, and I don’t believe an assault on the middle class, which is what happened in Wisconsin, is productive for economic growth, of anyone in our State, or our country. Now I’ve been pretty forthright in that regard, and, uh, I’ll maintain that position.”

Here’s the video:

Now let me be the first to say that I did not ask the best possible question. What I should have done was be more specific about how much of a rift there is between Labor and Washington State’s Democrats, and then specifically asked what steps Inslee would take, to, as I said earlier, heal the rift.

So normally what you do in a case like that is you go back to the campaign staff and send a follow-up question, and some helpful person who is doing the Candidate’s communications work will get you an official response.

But that’s where it gets weird.

If you try to go to the campaign website to locate the contract information, it is literally nothing, except for three links: give me money, get on the mailing list, or click through to facebook.

I posted a note “on the wall” at facebook, asking who the contact person was for the campaign for media inquiries, and not only did that get no response, the request was removed from the wall within minutes.

I sent follow-up questions to the originating address of the email that invited me to the Inslee event in the first place and to his Congressional office; those also went unacknowledged.

And that, right there, is pretty much the entire story as I know it: there is a significant and growing rift between Labor and Washington State’s Democrats, I tried to bring Inslee out on the issue (albeit clumsily), which he did not seem to want to address – and, oddly enough, there appears to be no desire on the part of the campaign to take the opportunity to follow up and affirm that an Inslee Administration would be a friend of Labor when it comes to things like protecting UI, and not balancing the budget while exempting corporate interests from taxation, and protecting workers from environmental hazards on the job.

Except there is one more thing.

I asked the WSLC’s Cummings this question…

Since the 2010 election cycle, have Democrats become more reliable partners, in the estimation of the WSLC?

…and she gave me a bit of a “tease”: the WSLC will release their 2011 Legislative Report, which will address that very question, just in time for their Annual Convention, which begins on August 4th – and we are told to stay tuned.

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Inslee Running For Washington Governor, Supports Full Marriage Equality June 29, 2011

Congressman Jay Inslee (WA-01) announced his candidacy for Governor of the State of Washington in Seattle Monday, and Your Erstwhile Reporter was present.

The candidacy was announced with a speech that focused on “process improvements” and the invocation of new technology jobs as an economic engine for job growth (and in fact the event took place at the headquarters of a company that has developed seed-derived biofuels that have been used to power military and commercial aircraft).

But that’s not the part that’s going to be the most interesting for the civil-rights supportive reader.

The most interesting part is that Inslee was quick to offer his support for full marriage equality in the State of Washington, should he find himself elected.

So before we get to the good stuff, let’s do a bit of historical review.

The Congressman has compiled a mixed record on issues that matter to the LBGT community during his time in Congress, and most of it can be considered supportive. He did vote to pass the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) repeal, and he co-sponsored the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act of 2009, which made it out of the House Oversight and Government Committee, only to die in the House Judiciary Committee. (The bill would have provided same-sex partners access to the spousal benefits of their Federal employee family members.)

An additional bill, HR 1024, would have given same-sex couples an expectation of equal treatment during immigration proceedings; this was also cosponsored by Inslee. (It also died in committee.)

However…when it came time in 2009 to try to repeal the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, the House got a bill together (HR 3567) that Inslee was not willing to cosponsor; it died, again, in House Judiciary.

Now here’s where I get a bit suspicious: a similar bill was introduced in the 112th Congress, on March 16, 2011, and of the 115 co-sponsors, virtually all signed on before April 6th. There are 5 who signed on later…including Congressman Inslee, who was one of two co-sponsors who all signed up on June 15th, which was just 12 days before his announcement.

The historical review complete, let’s talk about Monday.

I walked into the after-announcement “press availability” just in time to record this exchange:

REPORTER: “Congressman, would you address two social issues that are in the headlines these days? One, where do you stand on gay marriage, two, where do you stand on the legalization of marijuana?”

INSLEE: “Thanks for your easy question, sir, uh. Um, so I believe in marriage equality, and the reason I believe in that is that uh, I’ve been married for 38 years, and I fundamentally believe that no government, and no politician should deny any of my fellow Washingtonians the right to have what I have, which is a stable, committed, you know, meaningful relationship. So I’m gonna support, uh, the legalization of that equality in the State of Washington. And when we do that, uh, we will do it to make sure in a way that no religious organization doesn’t have the right to have their own definition for their own purposes, under their belief of spirituality. This is a situation where we can have both equality, which is a quintessential Washington value. And I said I love the State, one of the reasons I love the State of Washington is we have been leaders in equality in so many different ways; this is another place where I think Washington should lead.

Uh, marijuana, there are two things I know we should do for sure. Number one, we have got to get the intention of the voters of the State of Washington to be honored, which does allow the use of medical marijuana in the State of Washington…and right now, that intent of the voters is being frustrated by the Federal government, which is threatening the Federal–uh, State government any time you try to enforce the will of the people. So we need some changes to frankly, get the Federal government off our backs when it comes to the ability of Washingtonians to have access to medical marijuana.

Second, I believe that we should stop wasting so much of our resources in our criminal justice system associweated–associated with mari–marijuana, particularly personal use of marijuana. This is something that is really does not bring value or–or reduce significant levels of crime, and we need to reprioritize our law enforcement away from chasing folks who are involved in–in marijuana; we got enough problems in our criminal justice system, I’m aware of that, I guess in part because my daughter-in-law is a forensic scientist at the crime lab I’ve got a sense of the challenges. Law enforcement’s strapped; they got a lot of problems to deal with.

As far as total decriminalization, I’m not there yet at this moment. I’m a parent, I’m just not comfortable right now, uh, and that’s my position.”

OK, so that’s a pretty interesting story, and we could leave it right there – but there is one extra bonus to the thing that is so good, so deeply ironic…that you may remember the ending of this story long after you forget the lead:

I got a parking ticket, I did, attending the event, issued by a Parking Enforcement Officer with an amazingly appropriate name…and that ticket was issued to me for a violation that occurred one block over from Harrison Street in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood …which means I showed up to watch the leading Democratic contender for Governor in 2012 announce his candidacy…and when it was all over, Officer J. Hell had issued me a ticket on Republican Street.

And all that proves the truth of what I’m always saying:

Some days you don’t even have to write jokes.
You just have to harvest ‘em.

 

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.

 

On A New System (Sort Of), Or, Referendum 71 And Mail-In Voting October 27, 2009

We are now about two weeks away from the November election in Washington State, and one item on the ballot that has national attention is Referendum 71, the so-called “everything but marriage” proposal that would give same-sex couples more rights and protections than they have today.

There has been a lot of conversation about whether it will or won’t pass—and a lot of conversation about whether it should pass.

I hope it does, and if you live here I encourage you to vote “yes” November 3rd.

But that said, you may not be aware that Washington has an electoral system in transition, and that as a result of the transition Washington has some idiosyncrasies that will make forecasting the results a bit tougher, and determining the results a bit slower.

We’ll talk about that today, and by the time we’re done you should have an appreciation of the odd way in which things can work out—and that, absent a landslide, we aren’t likely to know the results on Election Day.

These Are Not Normal Times

We have the strangest weather here: it is not quite 50 degrees F. as I write this, in midafternoon; but by tonight it’s expected to get warmer as the rain moves in.

In normal times, this is the kind of thing experts would be considering as they tried to estimate what turnout might be in the upcoming election—but these are not normal times. After the November ’08 election, Washington, following Oregon’s lead, became the second “vote-by-mail” state, and now the question has become not whether weather will impact the turnout…but if it will matter at all.

“Democracy is only an experiment in government, and it has the obvious disadvantage of merely counting votes instead of weighing them.”

–Dean William Ralph Inge, Possible Recovery?

The first unusual thing about Election Day in Washington is that there no longer is an Election Day. Voting now begins when the ballots begin to arrive in voters’ homes (20 days before Election Day), and as of Sunday, October 25th, King County Elections (Washington’s largest county; the county that includes Seattle and almost 1/3 of the State’s population) reports that 8.59% of the ballots are already in. All ballots with a postmark before November 4th will be counted, which means there will be new ballots arriving for several days after the “polls close”.

(As you may have guessed, each county operates their own elections office. All elections in the State are regulated by the Washington Secretary of State, which is also the office that handles paperwork for State-level candidates, initiatives, and referenda.)

This is driving the professional political community nuts, because it means every day there is a smaller pool of voters to influence, even though the cost of advertising time isn’t going down. Additionally, it is at the moment unclear exactly who has voted and how; over time, I think we’ll begin to see patterns emerge.

For example, in King County in this election cycle, the locations most likely to have already voted are, for the most part, the wealthiest regions of the county. A group of six communities clustered around Bill Gates’ house all have “in” rates above 10.5%, including three above 13%. The Town of Beaux Arts Village is at the top of that pack, running almost double the countywide rate at 16.74%.

The other communities most likely to have already voted are among the most rural in the County. Skykomish has 16.31% in, Enumclaw 12%. Unincorporated rural King County, however, is only running 8.49%, suggesting that the trend to vote early among the wealthy is more predictable than that same trend among the rural voters.

Among the many communities with average “in rates”, however, are clusters of low- and upper-income housing—and that’s where it is impossible to determine precisely who’s voted already and who is left to influence. With polling reports on Election Day you can track by precinct (and that type of tracking will be available after November 3rd), but for now an effective method of tracking has not emerged.

We assume that over time we’ll see the development of some form of “exit polling” of those who have already voted…but this is the first significant election since all-mail voting began, and prediction tools are as of yet untested.

“Message, We Have A Problem”

All of this is affecting advertising—after all, if you don’t know what portion of the electorate has already voted, how do you target your message to the remaining voters? When we get a week out, if we have 20% or more of the ballots in, this question will begin to loom very large as campaigns have to decide whether they have spent enough campaign dollars to buy airtime…or not…and whether the target audience they seek to influence is actually responding to the message…or not.

This all becomes even tougher to figure out because it’s a series of state and local races that are being contested in this election; as a result there is no daily tracking poll data available from which we might draw some near real-time conclusions.

Speaking of polling data: here’s some. A Survey USA poll conducted October 3rd and released October 6th of 548 likely voters suggests R-71 was winning 45%-42%. Women were both more likely to vote for the measure and more unsure as to how they would vote, relative to men (48% yes, 36% no, 16% unsure for females; 42% yes, 46% no, 12% unsure for males).

Voters 35-49 were simultaneously the least supportive of the measure and the most unsure as to how they’ll vote (35% approve, 49% reject, with 20% unsure). Voters over 65, the group most likely to vote, were supporting the measure (44%-40%, 16% unsure) as of October 6th.

The poll has a 4% margin of error, and some of these results are within that range, so as of October 6th this was still a race that’s very much up for grabs.

There are no Federal or State offices being contested in this election, and the only other statewide ballot issue, Initiative 1033, seeks to limit the growth of State income. The presence of the two ballot measures is likely to increase voting by 3% to 8%. It is suggested that a lower turnout will help the anti-71 crowd, a higher turnout, the pro-71 crowd.

All of this has had a major impact on “get out the vote” efforts as well—for example, no one volunteers to drive voters to polling places anymore…because there aren’t any polling places left. (There are a few exceptions for the disabled.) Instead, the effort here is to make sure those ballots get in mailboxes before Election Day.

It is possible to construct ads that attempt to “close the deal”: suggesting, in the last 20 days, that voters vote right now for or against the candidate or issue, but I haven’t seen ads of that type yet.

Finally, a few words about the “after Election Day” action. If this election is close, the number of votes that are in the mail in the days following the close of voting (and where they’re from) will be critical—and in the ‘08 cycle 50% of the total votes cast were in that “in the mail” category.

(Washington has been moving to voting by mail for some time, and in the 2008 cycle more than 90% of the votes cast were mail-in ballots. At that time 37 of the State’s 39 counties were voting entirely by mail.)

The bad news: it could take anywhere from several days to several weeks before we absolutely know the results. This process may include “reevaluation” of votes after Election Day and efforts by either party to disallow votes based on what they think they can get away with, and the result could be litigation.

The good news: there are no electronic voting machines in this system, and every ballot is a paper ballot. This means we can determine, eventually, exactly how the votes were cast—and if it takes a few recounts before we know the results, well, that’s what it will take.

So as of right now, that’s where we’re at: it’s the first major election since mail-in voting was adopted statewide, we are not sure of exactly how the impact of early voting is being felt, even though we know that almost 10% of the votes are in, professionals are still not exactly sure of what’s going on, and there should be a higher turnout due to the fact that we have two questions on the ballot for the entire voting public to consider.

Don’t expect a final result on Election Night, and if we do have to go to a recount, there won’t be any electronic voting machines to screw things up. Instead, every vote will be on a paper ballot. Most importantly of all: this ain’t Florida, we’ve been through recent close elections and recounts before—and we were able to work things out just fine.