Articles and Analysis


Generic House vs. National Count - Part I

Topics: 2006 , The 2006 Race

For more than a week -- with my bout of flu virus causing an unfortunate interruption -- I have been trying to come up with a reasonable tabulation of the total House vote to use as a comparison to the final rendering of the "generic" House vote by various national surveys. As it turns out, coming up with a precise total is not easy, as some votes are still being counted and other votes have not been reported.  The comparison comes with a number of caveats before we even reach the unusual spread in the generic results. 

The weekend before last, I copied the raw vote numbers reported by the Associated Press as posted on WashingtonPost.com (largely because the latter reported raw votes for all districts in a format easily conducive to spreadsheet copy-and-paste). Then last week, I went to various Secretary of State web sites to try check any district where a large portion of the precincts (3% or more) were still uncounted on the Post/AP tallies. I was able to obtain complete counts in most districts, but not all. In some areas, counting either continues or remains incomplete pending the release of final, "certified" results.

For example, nearly a third of the vote apparently remains uncounted in California's Riverside County (mostly absentee and provisional ballots). Yet check the Associated Press tallies for Riverside's 44th and 45th Districts (as reported by CNN.com or WashingtonPost.com) and you will see that "100%" of precincts have been counted. The reports on the California Secretary of State web site are not much more help.

Or check the results for any of the House districts in Washington, where a significant share of the votes had still not been counted when news sites stopped updating their results. For example, consider the results below for Washington's 5th District. The last report from WashingtonPost.com indicated that only 64% of precincts had been counted. The last update from CNN.com indicated 75% of precincts counted. And the current unofficial tabulation available from the Washington Secretary of State's office shows a total of 232,379 votes cast. So how many votes have been counted? According to a press spokesperson for the Washington Secretary of State, the "uncounted vote" tally is maintained separately by each County in Washington. Their web site currently shows a total of 48,190 votes still uncounted (roughly 2% of the total)


The last line of the table shows what the total would be if we extrapolate from the percentage of precincts counted. These data suggest either that 5% to 10% of the ballots are uncounted, or that extrapolations based on previous reports of precincts counted were too high, or -- most likely -- a mix of both. One lesson to take away is that "extrapolations" based on the percentage of precincts counted are sometimes less than precise shaky.

With the caution in mind that counting continues, and that the following totals are unofficial and incomplete, here are the current totals as I have:


Now consider that these totals still leave out the votes cast in 22 districts (19 held by Democrats and 3 by Republicans) where no votes have been reported. In six of those districts -- all in Florida and all held by Democrats -- vote counts will never be available (assuming that no write-in candidates qualified in any of the districts) because no votes were cast. Florida law leaves uncontested races off the ballot.

The totals above include vote counts for another 12 no-contest races (involving 11 Democrats and 1 Republican). The incumbent received an average of 108,608 votes in those districts, roughly 60% of the total votes cast elsewhere. If we assume that each of the incumbents in the 16 missing districts outside Florida received roughly that number of votes (a big if -- totals varied widely), we would add 2.3 million votes to the Democratic total, and a little over a half million votes to the Republican total. The Democratic margin would thus increase to a roughly seven-point margin (52% to 45%) for the Democrats. Though the exact size will depend on the assumptions we are willing to make about the various sources of uncounted votes.

And how does this estimate compare to the "generic" House vote on national surveys? I will take that up in a subsequent post, but the survey side of this comparison makes the vote count look relatively complete, precise and pristine.

Continues with Part II


Dwight McCabe:

I can offer some insight into Washington State's confusing reporting. (I ran voter targeting for the Goldmark campaign in the 5th Congressional District.)

The percentage of precincts reporting means nothing in a district is all mail-in voting, like ours in the rural eastern part of the state. Even in King County (home of Seattle and Bellevue, with over a quarter of the entire state's vote) where 70% vote by mail, the percentage of precincts reporting only refers to the count from the day of vote.

The reporting delays are caused by Washington State's rule that mail-in ballots are valid if postmarked by midnight on Election Day. This means that typically a third of the mail-in vote is not received by Election Day and additional ballots are received and tabulated for over a week afterwards. Counties with a mixed system of mail and day of voting are especially challenged because they have to run two validation and tabulating systems, which really hurts efficiency. For example, King County still has 16,000 votes uncounted as of tonight (11-21).

Oregon, by contrast, has gone to completely mail in voting but they require ballots to be received by Election Day, so you either have to mail it early, or drop it off at the local Elections office by 8 pm that night. As a result, their results are much more timely.

There's a dark side to the delayed reporting of results in Washington State. Whenever a race is close, voter emotion can be raised, especially on the losing side, leading to charges of fraud. We had a good taste of that two years ago when the Governor's race was eventually decided by 129 votes out of 3 million cast. King County took a couple of weeks to report all the votes. Since King County votes heavily Democratic, for a long time the Republican candidate was leading, setting up his supporters for a huge disappointment when he eventualy lost on recount. This just leads to mistrust in the integrity of the voting process and undermines support for democracy as a whole.



Does everyone start counting the Absentee Ballots at the same time? If so, when do they begin counting?


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