Thursday, November 04, 2010

Recount math and recount framing

As of 10 PM Thursday, the Secretary of State's website shows that Mark Dayton was victorious by 8,781 votes. You should note a couple of things about that sentence.

First, I said that Mark Dayton was victorious. Mark Dayton won. That's a cold hard fact. We'll confirm that through a precise and nonpartisan recount, but I will not shy away from saying it. Get used to saying it. This media narrative busying itself with contingency plans and buzzing about Tim Pawlenty staying on as Governor is understandable, to a degree. After all, we just went through an extended recount in 2008. There's good money to be made in the media by drumming up the extended recount story too, since it drives eyeballs to websites and viewers to the teevee.

But it's incumbent on the DFL and supporters to stop referring to this as a "lead." Mark Dayton won. The frame of "lead" suggests that the race continues, that there are still votes to win and that neither candidate is really, permanently ahead. It's the same framing move that Republicans have been using for the last two years by referring to the health care bill and the stimulus bill well after they've been made law. Do I have cue up the School House Rock to make my point clear? (Well, frankly I've been looking for an excuse to do so for a while, so here you go.)

If something comes up during a recount that causes a massive shift in votes, then we'll revise. But that's not going to happen.

Second, I said 8,781 votes. That's .42%, which in the grand scheme of things, is not a big margin. But viewed in terms of the shift that can occur during a recount it's positively massive. Let me give you some perspective. Consider Washington County. It's a suburban county that turned decisively for the GOP in 2010. When commentators talk about "strongholds" for Republican votes, it's a place that gets mentioned. Over 100,000 people voted in Washington County this election, and Tom Emmer won by 8 percent. What was the margin between Emmer and Dayton in Washington County? 9,009 votes - just above the total margin of victory.

This is the order of magnitude of shift that would need to occur for a recount to reverse Dayton's victory. Maybe you prefer to think about this in terms of precincts. How about Tom Emmer's home precinct of Delano? It's a really big precinct with 2,447 votes cast in the 2010 election. Tom Emmer won decisively 60% to 29%, more than doubling Mark Dayton's vote total. What was Emmer's winning margin? 772 votes. There would have the ballots from more than eleven lost Delano precincts riding around in the trunk of some Republican operative to close that gap.

The real movement in the 2008 recount was reconsideration of rejected absentee ballots. Today, the number of rejected absentee ballots was revealed to be around 3,000, about 1/4 the 2008 total. Changes in the law have substantially curtailed the number of rejected absentee ballots and clarified procedures for counting them. And there's no guarantee that the absentee ballots would even break for Emmer. In fact, the opposite is probably true. A late poll from PPP found that of the 9% who had voted early broke 55-36 for Dayton, and Franken gained a bunch of votes when rejected absentees were examined.

This is a dead end for Emmer. There simply aren't enough ballots. Mark Dayton won, and when the State Canvassing Board meets on November 23rd, it will say so. A recount is likely to occur, and it will proceed pretty quickly. The recount wouldn't even include consideration of rejected absentee ballots, only an election challenge can examine them. And when this orderly process ends reaffirming an 8,000+ vote victory, it will end with an election certificate for Dayton. This will happen before Christmas.

All of this talk about "extending Pawlenty's governorship" is gamesmanship or idle speculation. The talk of an Emmer victory? Well, let's just say this - have you heard anybody declaring that Emmer won?

I didn't think so.

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