Post Election Musings

A disorderly collection of random thoughts after the election

A disorderly collection of random thoughts after the election

• Topics: Elections,

The old system of voting at polling places had a lot going for it.  It created a civic ceremony.  One went forth on voting day and voted with one’s neighbors.  Election night had a ceremony for bringing in the ballot boxes and counting the ballots.  It was a lengthy process.  The early absentees would be announced shortly after eight o’clock.  The first batch of ballots would run between nine and ten o’clock.  If there was a close race, it might take until after midnight for enough ballots to be counted to see where things were going.  You woke up the next morning and could see the results.  It was a relaxed process for the politically interested.  There was time for socializing and  withdrawing to a quiet spot for a drink, a snack, and a chat about how things were going.

The current system has nothing going for it.  Going out on election night is about as interesting as watching cattle in a feed lot.  There’s some preliminary milling around, a brief rush for incomplete and often meaningless results, then a stampede for the exits.  When you wake up the next morning, there’s still nothing decided in the close races and the Secretary of State’s website is crashed like Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper. 

Since I haven’t had a chance to sit around with some cronies and chew the electoral fat, I’m getting it out of my system by jotting down some reactions to the elections and what folks have been saying at NWCitizen.

Our habits for interpreting election returns
were strongly shaped by the old system of precinct polling places.  Back then, the ballots were grouped geographically and demographically.  When the polls closed, all the ballots cast in each precinct were put in a locked and sealed box, then taken to the courthouse and counted.  Each precinct had a distinct and visible effect on the growing tally as election night rolled on. 

By the time all the ballots from the polling places were counted, the results of most races would be clear.  The only remaining ballots would be absentee ballots cast by mail.  Close races would be decided by the absentee count.  Absentee ballots were originally used by two distinct groups of people: residents who were out of the county traveling, working, or serving in the military; and residents who were in the county but unable to travel to polling places.  Most of the latter group were older and more conservative than the general voting population.

This produced a “conservative shift” in the absentee count.  The result was that close races often went to the conservative candidate simply because there was a sizable block of conservative votes that would always be counted last.

The present method of voting by mail has removed virtually all the structure from the ballot counting process.  Instead of being a voter with a distinct identity and demographic group, everybody is just thrown into the hopper as an unidentifiable speck in an undifferentiated, anonymous, and faceless crowd.  The returns are only slightly distinguishable between the first count on election night and the rest that will trickle in and be counted over the next few weeks.

There is a very slight “conservative shift” in the initial returns, but it is so small it is difficult to confirm.  One explanation is that some of the ballots cast early and counted by election night are voters with very strong ideological feelings.  These voters know how they are going to vote from the moment the candidates are identified.  It may be that this type of voting is slightly more conservative than the average of the entire population.  The result has been the very first results lean toward more conservative candidates and issues by a tiny amount.  That is what John is pointing out in his post from last night.

There are a few things that can be inferred from the results so far:

A few voters sat out the County races.  The ballot falloff so far shows there was a small number of voters who didn’t vote for county candidates but did vote on state initiatives.  About 5,000 votes were out there that candidates couldn’t inspire, but who were voting on other issues.  With several close races, that’s a significant chunk of votes.

Nobody changed their minds about the Bellingham mayoral race between the primary and the general election.  The margins in the primary and the general show a slight erosion of support for Mayor Daniel V. Pike.  Predicting what the outcome will be depends on which issues, if any, were most persuasive to the voters.  If you think the synthetic hysteria over coal was the big motivator, then you’ll bet for Mayor Daniel V. Pike squeaking back into office.  If you think the blunders over traffic cameras, looting the Greenways funds as an election ploy or similar excesses were what undermined the traditional free pass for incumbents, then Kelly Linville would be your pick for who ends up on top.  So far, Linville’s margin of votes has increased while the percentage separating the two candidates has shrunk slightly.

The city government is not in good odor.  The severe drubbing Cathy Lehman handed Barry Buchanan in the Bellingham Ward 3 Council race suggests the dissatisfaction with the administration might be higher than one thinks.  Barry lacked the huge pot of money Mayor Daniel V. Pike used to deflect criticism by cranking up the most negative campaign by an incumbent in memory.  When incumbents go negative, they are nearly always cutting their own throats.  

Buchanan avoided negative campaigning by avoiding having much of a campaign at all.   If anything, Barry’s loss demonstrates that incumbency only counts when you are running a strong campaign.  Standing for office when you opponent is running is what we saw here.

Sheriff Bill Elfo’s powerful reelection campaign
is somewhat puzzling.  Not in the lopsided results, given Elfo raised  over $50,000, but in what such a strong fund-raising effort might mean.  Bill Elfo was one of the state’s top fund-raisers in a race where he had an overwhelming advantage and no significant liabilities. 

I’m reading the tea leaves as suggesting Sheriff Elfo has ambitions for higher office.  There is no evidence to support my hunch other than the amount of effort he put into fund-raising.  I only had one conversation with him this fall, and I regret not asking him whether he is thinking of something like running for Congress or perhaps seeking to be head of the State Patrol by backing some future Republican gubernatorial candidate.  I honestly don’t understand the situation, but that much political fund-raising power will surely be applied somewhere in the future.

To put things in perspective, the top fund raisers in the local races were Mayor Daniel V. Pike with more than $89,000 raised so far, and Jack Louws with over $82,000 reported so far.  At the bottom end are Bellingham City Council member Seth Fleetwood with $0 reported, County Council member Barbara Brenner with $0 reported and County Assessor Keith Willnauer also with $0 reported.  What’s up with that?

A few words on coal trains and shipping terminals.  This is not an issue that is going to be decided by local politics.  It will be determined by lawsuits, probably in federal court, over the permitting process.  The Bellingham city government can’t determine the outcome, nor will the Whatcom County government.  In the case of the city, it’s not in their power.  In the case of the county, there is neither the will to oppose the project or any political capital to be made by doing so.   It’s ankle-biters or lapdogs all the way down.

The alliance between the Mayor Daniel V. Pike campaign and Washington Conservation Voters is one of temporary expediency.  Mayor Daniel V. Pike badly needed an issue with more luster than his record.  In past years, he might as well have chosen a vigorous opposition to racy magazines in convenience stores or fluoride in the drinking water. 

Nonprofit advocacy groups like Washington Conservation Voters live and die by fund-raising.  Spreading fear, finding a scapegoat to hate and then offering revenge for money is one way to do it.  Emotionally charged issues fill the bill perfectly.  WCV needed to raise funds.  Mayor Daniel V. Pike needed some sort of issue so he could stay in city hall.  If Mayor Daniel V. Pike loses the election, it will be interesting to see what his activism on this issue looks like when he is out of office.

The Gateway terminal advocates have helped that process along by behaving like carpetbaggers and scallywags.
  The mass mailing that showed up on on election day touting the coal terminal managed to come across as simultaneously smarmy and dishonest without once using the word coal.  Looks like those big city slickers have figured the rubes are all going to be easy marks.

Between the WCV, the Mayor Daniel V. Pike campaign, and the Gateway hucksters, it’s been quite the sordid little triangle.  Now the election is over, I’ll wager the issue will become a lot less prominent as the arena shifts to the courts.

Here’s a little ray of sunshine if these post election thoughts strike you as grumpy and downbeat.  Initiative 1183 passed despite frenzied efforts by the liquor cartels to maintain their cozy and incestuously corrupt monopoly through the good offices of the Washington Liquor Control Board.  Defenders of the WSLCB’s probity should feel free to offer a convincing explanation for the fact that every liquor store in Bellingham is closer to a now or former Brown and Cole grocery store than it is to a Haggens.

Removing the requirement forcing small producers into abusive wholesale relationships with the cartels and allowing direct sales from small state producers to retail outlets will reduce barriers to entry for new ventures.

The artisan distilling explosion that has occurred in other states has lagged in Washington because of the way the higher costs and lower margins were forced on small producers.  Allowing little guys to market their output directly to retailers will go a long way toward leveling the playing field.  Those bemoaning the loss of the 900 liquor store jobs may take some consolation in the future creation of new jobs among producers as the new regulations take effect.  The state has over 400 wineries, for instance.  At one time, that number was zero. In 2006, there were zero distilleries in Washington.  There are now 39 licensed craft distilleries.

Washington will likely see a surge in small distilleries similar to the boom in microbrew beers kicked off in the 1990s by Yakima’s Bert Grant and the other Washington pioneers of zymurgy.  Raise a glass and be of good cheer!


About Paul deArmond

Closed Account • Member since May 29, 2009

Paul de Armond was a writer, reporter and research analyst. He is the recipient of the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force 2001 Human Rights Award. In the 1990s, he and Jay [...]

Comments by Readers

Hue Beattie

Nov 11, 2011

My comments on your musings:
The current system gives the voter more oportunity to learn about the candidates and ballot issues. also the % of people voting is higher. 
Barry was running for Mayor before Linville jumped in.
Lots of people changed their minds as the tea party used red lights as a wedge issue and Kelli backed away from Craig “Coal”
The people’s Initiative process bought by business. doesn’t bother you.? Drink up and forget about the 22 million spent on your vote.


Paul deArmond

Nov 11, 2011

Actually, the total spent on 1183 was over $34 million.  Hue seems to be ignoring the opponents $12 million.  Protect Our Communities money came from out of state liquor interests.

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