Thursday, September 14, 2006

Races Still to be Determined?

The Washington Post reports today:

Because of the voting problems, Montgomery officials distributed up to 12,000 provisional paper ballots to voters. Officials also gave out 11,200 absentee ballots, 6,000 of which have been returned. The absentee ballots will begin to be counted today, the provisionals Monday.

The uncounted ballots could affect the outcomes of two House of Delegates races in the county, according to Samuel L. Statland, one of three voting members on the Board of Elections. Fewer than 400 votes separated Jeff Waldstreicher and Daniel Farrington, who were vying for District 18's third seat. In District 19, Benjamin Kramer led Paul Griffin by 238 votes.
According to the article, there are about 18,000 ballots remaining outstanding. However, it is rather unlikely that they will change the outcome of the election in District 18. The chance of a shift in District 19 is somewhat higher even if it is more likely than not that Kramer will remain ahead of Griffin.

First, remember that there is a high rate of roll-off in state legislative elections so the number of state legislative votes to be counted is smaller than number of ballots outstanding. Among the 93,976 people who voted by machine, only 81,083 (86%) voted in the state senate races. There were 226,270 votes in the delegate races. Despite the higher rate of contestation in these races, this is the equivalent to only 75,423 ballots with three votes for delegate--80% of the number of ballots cast.

If people voted for state legislature at the same rate in the outstanding ballots, this means that there are really only 15,480 ballots with senate votes and the equivalent of 14,400 ballots with delegate votes left to be counted. If one assumes that the share of outstanding ballots in each legislative district is very roughly equivalent to the share of delegate votes cast by machine on Election Day in each district (a rough assumption but one that will serve for our purposes), there are around 2199 ballots remaining in District 18 and 2098 ballots in District 19.

Remember that each person can cast only one vote for a delegate candidate even though they have three votes. In the votes counted so far in the District 18 delegate race, Jeff Waldstreicher received a delegate vote from 46% of voters and Dan Farrington received a delegate vote from 43% of the ballots. Dan would need votes on more than 64% of the outstanding ballots to overtake Jeff assuming Jeff still received a vote from 43% of the ballots. This is possible but not likely. (The real figures are undoubtedly different depending on the share of voters who didn't cast three votes for delegate; this could benefit Jeff as easily as Dan.) Dan may be hoping that the absentee ballot forms he included in a flyer sent to voters may have gotten him more votes but there was no spike in absentee ballot applications in the wake of the flyer including the form.

In the District 19 race, Ben Kramer received votes from 42% of ballots compared to 40% for Paul Griffin. Griffin would need to win votes on 54% of the outstanding ballots in order to overtake Kramer. This is clearly more likely than Farrington overtaking Waldstreicher in District 18. However, it remains more probable that Kramer will extend his lead.

These are all rough estimates that include important assumptions. Of course, smart candidates will wait until all the votes are counted before declaring victory in close races like these even as they reassure their supporters that the results look good. The public is not following these races closely so there is no political advantage in terms of public opinion to be gained by claiming victory before it is really official.