The 2018 election is mostly behind us by now. In the past I usually haven’t waited a week to recap an election and inject my own mordant thoughts. In the past we almost always had firm results on Election Night. But this is the age of the mail-in ballot, when Election Day is too late to vote by mail, and Election Night is too soon to draw firm conclusions.
So locally we’re waiting for Utah County in particular, which our governor dubbed “an epicenter of dysfunction,” to finish counting ballots (not just the ones which come late but properly postmarked in the mail). The highest-profile race yet in doubt is in the Fourth Congressional District, where Republican incumbent Mia Love trails Democratic challenger Ben McAdams by a few thousand votes, with some Utah County (read: heavily Republican) votes yet to be counted. We may know that result today.
Nationally, we just got final results in a tight US Senate race in Arizona, where Republican Senator Jeff Flake’s seat has taken a bizarre and dispiriting turn to the nutty left.
We’re waiting for a November 27 runoff election in Mississippi, where neither major party’s US Senate candidate got 50 percent of the vote.
And we’re waiting on the outcome of another circus in south Florida, where gubernatorial and US Senate races apparently won by Republicans are subject to a perverse, familiar drama in – where else? – Broward County (with a sideshow in Palm Beach County), where election law is merely a set of inconvenient suggestions, to be ignored as long, as defiantly, and as comprehensively as possible. It’s anybody’s guess whether they’ll have time to “discover” enough boxes of mysteriously “misplaced” ballots to turn the results Democratic before the long arm of the law arrives.
“Count every vote,” intone the Democrats. If the Republicans dared to reply, “Count every legal vote,” they’d be called racists and accused of voter suppression.
In the 2000 presidential election, the US Supreme Court had to step in and force Florida to obey its own laws; the Florida Supreme Court demurred. (Part of the Bush v. Gore decision was 7-2; part was 5-4.) This time, a Florida court has already begun to step in, ordering the Broward County supervisor of elections, a known repeat offender, to issue certain key but overdue reports, as required by law.
For all that, some outcomes are clear.
US House and Senate – In General
First, the Republicans picked up somewhere between one and three seats in the US Senate. Despite the general tendency of midyear elections to run against a sitting president, this was a predictable outcome, given that far more incumbent Democrats than Republicans were up for reelection. Still, it seems reasonable to think that the Democrats might have turned the Senate, but for the sudden, large shift of voters to the Republicans over Democrats’ conduct in the Kavanaugh affair.
Second, the Democrats seized control of the US House of Representatives, where they’ll have about a 25-seat margin. All else being equal, this is a fairly typical midterm turn. I didn’t predict it, because I overlooked a key factor. About three dozen incumbent Republicans chose not to run for reelection, and open seats are far more likely to change parties.
A slightly larger Senate majority will help the President where judicial and other appointments, as well as the ratification of treaties, are concerned. But losing the House spells the effective end of most of his legislative agenda, at least for the next two years. In Wednesday’s morning’s press conference, in a long, rambling statement that (alas) was vintage Trump, he tried to explain how a Democratic House will be easier to work with than a Republican one. It’s not an outlandish idea, but I think he responds to the growing partisan divide in Congress with too much self-confidence – which again is vintage Trump. That said, conventional wisdom often seems to exempt President Trump, so we’ll see.
Meanwhile, the House Democrats have a choice: they can legislate, which would require bipartisan cooperation and give the President some additional successes on which to hang his hat in the 2020 election, or they can investigate everything that moves (or doesn’t), issuing an endless flurry of subpoenas, conducting one bitter hearing after another, in the hope of destroying the president sufficiently that he can be impeached by the House (which they could do in a purely partisan vote) and removed from office by the Senate (which is extremely unlikely). If they take the latter course, they’ll likely get shellacked in 2020, through what we might call the Kavanaugh effect, writ large.
All things are possible, when destruction, not governing, is the aim, and when the national media is nakedly and shamelessly partisan. (Lest you think that was a nod to Adam and Eve being naked and unashamed in the Garden of Eden, I hasten to note that unashamed and shameless are not the same thing at all.) But I think that most American voters – especially the ones who work rather than protest for a living – are growing progressively less susceptible to and less tolerant of the endless tsunamis of anti-Trump, anti-Republican propaganda issuing from their Facebook friends and the Big Media Acronyms alike.
Federal Races on My Ballot
Mitt Romney defeated Jenny Wilson by a two-to-one margin, keeping retiring Republican Senator Orrin Hatch’s seat for the GOP. Three third-party candidates combined received less than seven percent of the vote. The Big Media Acronyms called this race within minutes of the polls closing in Utah.
In my Third Congressional District, Republican incumbent John Curtis defeated James Courage Singer by more than a two-to-one margin. A pair of third-party candidates split less than five percent of the vote.
I was two-for-two in my predictions here, but a reasonably competent goldfish could have done the same.
State, County, and Local Races
In Utah’s 56th House District, Republican incumbent Kay Christofferson ran unopposed and won with 100 percent of the vote – which means that no one could vote for anyone else, not the that all voters who had him on their ballot actually voted for him. (That would be a mildly interesting matter to explore in the numbers.)
In Utah State School Board District 9, Cindy Davis defeated Avalie Muhlestein by more than a two-to-one margin, as I expected in the wake of a similar primary result.
Utah County Commission Seats A and B both stayed Republican by large margins, with incumbent Bill Lee defeating Democrat Jean Bowen by more than a two-to-one margin and Tanner Ainge defeating United Utah Party candidate Teri McCabe by roughly a four-to-one margin.
Republican David Leavitt beat Libertarian Andrew McCullough for Utah County Attorney by almost a five-to-one margin, a minor defeat for marijuana – but see the other marijuana-related vote below.
Republican Amelia Powers defeated Independent American Party leader Jason Christensen for Utah County Clerk/Auditor by more than four-to-one – but if she were the incumbent, I suspect that a lot of folks would want their votes back by now, given that the county clerk’s office is over elections.
Republican Mike Smith ran unopposed for Utah County Sheriff and won handily, of course.
Sarah Beeson defeated ‘Afa Palu by nearly a two-to-one margin for my district’s seat on the Alpine School Board.
I was eight-for-eight in these races, but … the aforementioned goldfish, you know?
I see nothing of interest in the judicial retention results, so let’s just skip those.
Amendments, Propositions, and One Toothless Question
Constitutional Amendment A passed by a three-to-one margin, cleaning up a loophole in property tax exemptions for “military persons.” This is no surprise.
Constitutional Amendment B failed by 44 percent margin. I didn’t predict this one, but I did say I found it difficult to care. Apparently, most voters cared more than I did. So the proposal to exempt property rented or leased by government from property taxes went down hard.
Constitutional Amendment C passed by a 26 percent margin, allowing the Utah Legislature to call itself into special session without the governor’s cooperation. I predicted the result, but again I’m surprised at the margin.
Nonbinding Opinion Question 1 failed, as I predicted, but I thought it would be close. It wasn’t. It went down hard, almost two-to-one. So we may draw the conclusion that most voters don’t want to raise the gas tax to help fund education. There’s a temptation to conclude further that most voters don’t want additional funding for education, but I suggest we resist that leap. By my count, more local school district bond issues passed than failed in Utah in this election.
Maybe I’m not the only one who wants the legislature to do its job through the normal budget process, and who is tired of lavishly-funded media campaigns pushing more and more money for education. (Seriously, that late radio ad telling us to vote for the question because it would make teachers feel good was absurd. I’d rather pay them far better and let them manage their own feelings.) But the bottom line here is still that this question was nonbinding. Had it passed, it would not have enacted what it proposed, and it repealed nothing by failing.
As I write this, Proposition 2, legalizing medicinal marijuana, is passing by 4.5 percent, or about 48,000 votes. That’s probably too large a margin for as-yet-uncounted votes to overcome, no matter how many of those are in Utah County.
I predicted it would fail, but I’m not sure how much difference this one makes either. Supposedly, if it finally passes, the legislature will fix some problems in it. And if it fails, they’ll enact something similar without delay. But we’ll see.
As I write, Proposition 3 is passing by more than seven percent, or 62,000 votes. This is the Medicaid expansion. Its passage is particularly interesting, given that Question 1 failed so dramatically, and the two measures were bundled together in some opposition advertising as tax increases.
I predicted it would fail.
Proposition 4 at present is passing by about half a percent, or less than 5,000 votes. This proposition will create a bipartisan commission to propose redistricting plans to the Utah Legislature, rather than leaving the matter entirely to the Legislature. I don’t know how it will create more than one competitive US House district in the state, which we clearly already have, judging by the fact that a GOP incumbent is trailing a Democratic challenger. A less-gerrymandered district map might leave us with no competitive districts at all.
I voted against it but predicted it would pass.
I was four-of-six in predicting these results, excluding the one amendment where I made no prediction. But I was so far off in the margins, even where I predicted the result, that I don’t feel particularly successful here. I suppose that I was entertained, which seems to be the point of my unscientific predictions.
A few thoughts.
Some of the results I gave above are close enough that they could still change.
After trying it a couple of times, I like the mail-in ballot, if we can find the will to keep our voter registration records clean and current. But I miss the relative certitude of Election Night, with in-person voting.
Now, about Utah County, where lines were horrendous on Election Day, despite mail-in ballots, and we’re still waiting for some key results …
Granted, the turnout was very high for a midterm election, nationally and in Utah. But it seemed predictable. So I wonder if the glaring inadequacy of Utah County’s election preparations can be traced ultimately to a county clerk or even a county commission (and the voters who elected them) who didn’t want to pay one dollar more than the bare minimum to have an election at all. The cheapest possible government isn’t necessarily good government.
I’m speculating here without specific data. But maybe we should treat elections like church banquets, where the worst imaginable catastrophe (which doesn’t involve an ambulance, fire engines, or other first responders) is to run out of food. So we overprepare, and we look upon leftovers with relief.
We could pay poll workers enough for their work and their training that they wouldn’t be in short supply, year after year. We could err on the side of more polling places with greater capacity. And we could explain what we’re doing and why, in a professional and effective manner, to forestall most (not all) of the complaints about spending.
One final image, looking ahead. You know the scene early in the first Harry Potter film, where the Dursleys’ refusal give Harry his mail from Hogwarts leads to a veritable blizzard of letters? Replace those letters with Congressional subpoenas, and see (a) how long it takes for the same scene to occur at the White House, and (b) how long thereafter it takes the Democrats to realize they’ve just blown off their own feet with a howitzer, and to back off in the hope of saving their 2020 electoral chances.
I predict a new level of ugly from both sides. You and I don’t have to join it. But let’s not tune out – much as I, and probably you, already want to.