Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Elections update: what happened in the Continental School District

Now that the Pima County Board of Supervisors has accepted the election canvass, I thought it might be useful to go back and try to figure out what happened in the Continental School District.

Prior to the election, a ballot snafu there raised an election controversy.   The school board race ballot instructed the voter to “Select 3” instead of the correct procedure, “Select 2.”   Elections officials made the decision to void any votes received in that race on the original ballot, and to hold a simultaneous special election, which required them to provide a special second “short” ballot to voters for that one race.

Some feared this would cause confusion, and it did.   More than 200 voters returned both the short ballot and the long ballot in the same envelope, which caused election officials to suddenly discover an additional 212 votes in Congressional District 2 when they thought that race had been fully counted.  This caused a bit of consternation, but in the end the new votes did not affect the outcome of the race.

Others feared confusion might lead voters to fail to vote one or both of the ballots.  Any lost votes on the “long ballot” in that district, which leans Republican, could harm GOP candidates in close county-wide races.

So what happened?

To shed some light on that question, I compared the Continental race to another school district, Vail.  Both are similar in that nearly every voter eligible to vote in the school board race also is eligible to vote in the CD2 race.  I took my data giving the number of voters registered in each precinct from the Pima Recorder’s website, and my data on election returns from the Pima Elections Office website.

Here’s how it shakes down.

In the Continental precincts, 19,152 registered voters are currently eligible to cast votes in the school board race (this is current registration, a number that is similar to but slightly higher than the number registered as of the day of the election).  8,170 actually did, for a turnout of 43%.   In those same precincts, 19,407 are currently registered and qualified to vote in CD2.   15,070 actually did, for a turnout of 78%.

At this point , you may be tempted say, “Ah, ha!”  But wait.  As it turns out, it’s quite normal for people who vote in congressional elections to leave school board races blank.   That’s why the comparison with Vail is useful.

In the Vail School Board precincts, according to the Pima Recorder’s website, as of this moment 48,856 people are registered to vote and also qualified to vote in the Vail School Board races; the number for CD2 is exactly the same.  On election day, citizens cast 22,708 votes in the school board race.  But this was a “select two” election; divide that number by 2 and you get 11,354, for a turnout of 23% in that contest.  But 20,339 cast ballots in the CD2 race, for turnout of 42%.  So as you can see, Continental voters had a better turnout for both contests.

These figures are approximate, and definitely not official.  Among other things, as noted I’m using current voter registration totals, versus the number actually registered to vote on election day, since the former is what’s available on line at the moment for both districts.  But still and all, despite the ballot confusion, Continental School District voters stacked up pretty well in their turnout.

This leaves one last question.   Even though the turnout seems to have been above average in the Continental district despite the snafu, might even more people have voted in all the races had there not been a mistake?  That question will have to remain in the realm of speculation. 

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