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Barry Jantz

Assessing the changing DeMaio-Peters vote count

Update: 6:00 p.m. Thursday: In the time since I posted the column below late this afternoon, the Registrar did indeed update the results:

  • Carl DeMaio’s lead with 50.26 percent changed to Scott Peters now leading with 50.27 percent.
  • Raw votes are now at Peters with 78,837 and DeMaio with 77,976.
  • DeMaio’s vote margin of 752 votes disappeared, with Peters now leading by 861 votes.
  • That’s a 1,613 vote swing in Peters’ favor.
  • Total ballots counted increased from 144,110 to 156,813.
  • Thus, with 12,703 additional ballots in the mix, Peters added 7,158 votes to his total. DeMaio added 5,545 votes to his.
  • That means Peters took over 56.3 percent of the additional ballots counted.

Those numbers do not in any way reflect good news for the DeMaio campaign. Tomorrow’s update, if the vote trends additionally in Peters’ direction, will mean we have answers to the questions posed at the end of my original post below. Many are calling it for Peters now. I can’t disagree with them, statistically.

5:00 p.m. Thursday…

With approximately 180,000 mail and provisional ballots left to tally county-wide, and maybe 30,000 to 45,000 of those in the 52nd Congressional District, where does this crazy Scott Peters vs. Carl DeMaio battle end up?

Let’s start with some political givens, as well as the direction the vote count took on election night.

Mail and “day of” ballots

In a partisan battle, so the adage goes, those who vote by mail tend to be older and more conservative.  Those voting on election day tend to be more liberal. This often correctly translates into a common belief that Republican candidates have an advantage among those who vote by mail, whereas Democrats fare batter with those voting on election day. This means something in a close race; in a blow out it’s meaningless.

Yet, what the adage doesn’t address is whether the level of advocacy on the part of the competing campaigns and/or any increased media attention on the race has changed any voting sentiments in any way between the time mail ballots started being cast — a month before the election — and election day itself.  We’ll get there in a bit.

Tallying the votes: Trends and voter sentiment

As a count progresses, although the typical thought is to look at raw numbers of votes (i.e. “DeMaio leads by 752 votes”), it’s so much easier to simply look at the leader’s percentage of the vote and how it changes, up or down.

Slightly after 8:00 p.m. on election night, the release of vote data based on mail ballots received showed Carl DeMaio with over 51 percent of the vote.

The DeMaio campaign and the Republican Party were not comforted in the least by an over two point lead. Many believed DeMaio would have to be ahead by over four points in this first count among mail ballot voters, as a buffer to what could very well be election day voters favoring Scott Peters.

The further interesting twist, in this case, is that the mail ballots were made up of a mix of those voting three to four weeks prior to the election and those ballots filled out and mailed in the last couple of weeks. Regardless of what anyone may think of the allegations-against-DeMaio storyline, it’s fair analysis to wonder if any of those voting by mail towards the end of that time frame were affected by the story in any way and thus less inclined to support the Republican. Even a small percentage of voters thus swayed could impact a close election.

Yet, no one could possibly know the motivating sentiments in those thousands of mail ballots, only that DeMaio’s lead was closer than might have been expected at the 8:00 p.m. mark.

Between 8:00 p.m. and about midnight, as “day of” ballots were added to the mix, the DeMaio number dropped from the initial over 51 percent, first to just below 51 percent, then to a hair-thin 50.17 percent of the vote (a couple of hundred votes, in raw numbers). This was with about 70 percent of the vote counted throughout the district. That kind of trend did not look good for DeMaio, especially with 30 percent of the election night vote to count.

A DeMaio Uptick

But then, a slight uptick as the count moved towards 100 percent of the ballots. The final election night update (1:08 a.m Wednesday and as it currently stands), has DeMaio at 50.26 percent (a 752 vote lead).

So, if election day votes are supposed to trend in favor of Peters, why the slight swing back in DeMaio’s direction between midnight and 1 a.m.? Geo-demographics, which only a wonk would notice, perhaps. At midnight, although 70 percent of the vote was counted district-wide, only 41 percent of the vote was tallied in the City of Poway, considered a more conservative DeMaio stronghold with other northeast areas of the district. A significant portion of the final election night vote likely consisted of areas that “leaned” DeMaio.

Where now?

So, where does the leader’s percentage go from here, up or down? Does the leader change from DeMaio to Peters along the way?

I’d like to leave it at “Who the heck knows!?” But any conjecture has to include an analysis of mail ballot voters.

The remaining ballots typically consist of two components. Late mail ballots are those walked into a polling place on election day, usually by those who just didn’t get around to mailing it on time. Yet, such a voter takes the responsibility seriously enough to ensure the ballot is still cast.

Provisional ballots are potentially problematic in some way and must be set aside for analysis by the Registrar of Voters office. For instance, often a provisional ballot is cast by someone having requested a mail ballot, but then instead shows up at the polling place to vote in person with no mail ballot in hand. Since the poll workers have the person listed as a mail voter, the Registrar’s office has to ensure a mail ballot wasn’t sent in first, with the voter subsequently attempting to vote a second time. Such individuals are of course allowed to vote, but their ballots are set aside. Once all such ballots reach the Registrar, assurances are made to ensure no duplicate ballots have been cast.

As noted, those who vote by mail tend to be more conservative. All things being “equal,” those who typically vote by mail will lean Republican, even if they requested a mail ballot and ultimately waited until election day to drop it off. Right?

Wrong. Or…well, the supposed political adages may very well end here.

Will mail ballot voters who waited until election day be reflective of the “leans more conservative” stripe, like the mass of those giving DeMaio an initial two-point lead? Or, since they likely waited until Monday or Tuesday to fill out their mail ballots on the way to the polls, will they in any way have turned a jaundiced eye towards DeMaio, at least partly as a result of negatives associated with the increased media coverage and political advertising in the final weeks of the campaign?

Who the heck knows!?

Track the count here, which could change at any minute tonight. Remember, this now starts with DeMaio’s 50.26 percent.

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This also appears at SD Rostra.