Nov. 6, 2018 — At long last, the 2018 midterm Election Day has arrived. Democrats appear well positioned to capture the House of Representatives, but the question of how big a majority margin we will see remains. The large number of dead-even campaigns heading into today suggests that a small majority margin is the most likely outcome.
Republicans, largely because Democrats are defending 26 of the 35 Senate races, should hold control but, again, to what degree? Will their 51-49 margin increase? It appears they will successfully unseat North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D), but will Arizona and Nevada both hold for them, allowing more substantial gains? Does Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s (D-El Paso) new-found celebrity status and national fundraising prowess allow him to overcome Texas voting history to unseat first-term senator and former presidential candidate Ted Cruz? These and many other yet-to-be determined answers will be uncovered late tonight.
Several races may not finish tonight. Today is also the first time Louisiana voters will go to the polls during this cycle. Without a formal nomination process, the Bayou State consolidates its primary and general election into one vote. Therefore, if a candidate receives an absolute majority tonight, that individual is elected. If not, the top two finishers will advance to a Dec. 8 run-off. With no governor or Senate election on the ballot and little competition within the state’s six House districts, it appears likely that all congressional incumbents will win tonight. Next up, Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), possibly facing US Sen. John Kennedy (R), will defend his position in the 2019 odd-numbered year election.
Two states require majorities to win a public position, meaning we could go into political overtime in Georgia and Maine if not all first-place finishing candidates secure 50 percent. In Georgia, the tight governor’s race could go to a post-election run-off on Jan. 8 if neither Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R) nor former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D) finish with majority support. The same will be true for any House finisher not reaching majority status.
In Maine — and this could come into play in the tight 2nd Congressional District — an instant run-off will take place if the first-place finisher does not secure majority support. Voters rank the candidates on the ballot in case a majority is not achieved. This process was triggered in the Democratic gubernatorial primary and the “instant run-off” proved not so instant as it took election officials about three weeks to determine an actual winner. The 2nd District features Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-Oakland/Bangor) and state Rep. Jared Golden (D-Lewiston).
It’s also possible, should the House majority prove very tight, that we will not know the final status until several weeks from now. With California and Washington having as many as 10 seats in play, the states’ long counting system could mean not knowing the majority result until closer to the end of this month. In both states, voters are allowed to postmark their ballot on Election Day, meaning it will not be received until days later in some cases.
Washington requires all votes to be cast by mail, and probably 80 percent will be done so in California. But, particularly in the latter state that schedules “counting days” after the election, the final result isn’t known until approximately two weeks later. In close results, the post-election counting period often changes the outcome.
If the majority hangs in abeyance during this time – and other states could be in similar situations waiting for overseas ballots to be received along with counting provisional and absentee votes (every state has different procedures for handling those) – it could be awhile before we know who will control the House if tonight’s national results prove inconclusive.
In the Senate, it is likely the Mississippi election featuring appointed Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) will advance to a post-Thanksgiving Nov. 27 run-off. So, if the Senate majority comes down to the outcome of this election, we also could be waiting until the end of the month to know its final status.
When Sen. Thad Cochran (R) resigned and was replaced by Sen. Hyde-Smith, Mississippi law required that a special election be held to determine who will serve the balance of the current term that ends at the beginning of 2021. Sen. Hyde-Smith faces former US Agriculture Secretary and Mississippi Congressman Mike Espy (D) and state senator and former US Senate candidate Chris McDaniel (R-Ellisville) in today’s vote. If no one reaches the 50 percent plateau, the top two finishers will advance to the Nov. 27 secondary election.
With early voting already setting midterm turnout records and 33 states now receiving more early vote and/or absentee ballots than they did in the last midterm election (2014), we will likely see large voter participation rates today. In fact, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah election offices have already received more ballots this year than the entire aggregate vote from 2014.
With that, let the counting begin.