Setting the Record Straight

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 28, 2016 — With Thanksgiving and the long weekend having just passed, it’s a good time to correct some misconceptions about the 2016 election.

The media has long reported that voter participation levels dropped below the most recent elections, suggesting that the Nov. 8 vote was in the low turnout realm. But as we now know, more than 13 million votes have been processed since Election Day, and such a proclamation is no longer true.

Absentee, provisional, and overseas ballots have streamed into the tabulation centers across the country and are now assimilated into the various state counts. The California and Washington systems also allow voters to postmark their mail ballots on Election Day instead of requiring them to be received by Voting Day as is the case in virtually every other state; overseas ballots are excepted for late arrival in all places.

Due to California and Washington, literally millions of ballots went unreported on Election Night. In fact, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) and challenger Doug Applegate (D) are still in an unresolved election in California’s 49th Congressional District as of this writing. Before the long Thanksgiving break, the secretary of state reported that more than two million ballots statewide remain to be processed.

The all-time high voter participation figure was established in 2008, when 131,426,292 individuals cast their ballots in the presidential election. The 2012 count dropped to 129,172,069 and for a time, many believed the 2016 total would be even less than four years ago. Currently, 132,413,416 votes have been recorded, already making this the largest turnout ever for an American election. Once the California ballots are processed, and the remnants from other states are added, it is possible that the overall vote count will approach, if not reach, the 135 million plateau.

Compared to 2012, voter turnout was up in 41 states and the District of Columbia, and down in nine places. The highest increases occurred in six states with California (14.4 percent) leading the way. Next came Texas (11.8 percent), Florida (11.2 percent), Arizona (11.1 percent), Nevada (10.7 percent), and Oregon (10.6 percent). All of the states are in the west or the Sun Belt region. President-Elect Trump carried three of these entities (Arizona, Florida and Texas), while Hillary Clinton took the remainder (California, Nevada and Oregon).

The nine states where voter turnout fell in comparison to 2012 is an interesting lot. Donald Trump’s second strongest state, West Virginia, saw the greatest decrease in voter participation, off 23.3 percent from the previous presidential election. Mississippi (9.5 percent), Ohio (4.3 percent), and Wisconsin (3.9 percent) experienced the next largest drops. New Jersey, Maryland, Kansas, Iowa, and Alaska all saw their turnouts drop 1.3 percent or less.

Interestingly, two of the states that proved to be among the biggest factors in determining the presidential outcome, Ohio and Wisconsin, both saw turnout decreases, even though the nation as a whole was up an average of what will eventually land in the 4.0 to 4.5 percent range. Of the nine states with lower turnout, Trump won seven and Clinton, two.

Another point of electoral contention is that Trump did not win the popular vote, even though he will score 306 Electoral Votes, 36 more than the minimum necessary to secure victory. In fact, the popular vote total will yield the greatest disparity ever between two candidates when the aggregate winner lost the Electoral College. At the end of counting, more than two million more people will have voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.

Trump counters that had there been a different system in place, he would have performed better in the popular vote. There may be some credence to his argument.

The two candidates left virtually uncontested 32 voting entities and actively campaigned in only 19 states. In the uncontested 32, Clinton racked up a popular vote lead of what appears to be more than 4.8 million votes. It appears her aggregate vote in California alone will place distance of more than five million gross votes between she and Trump. Additionally, the vote-rich states of New York, Illinois, and New Jersey are also included in the uncontested category. Trump’s conceding such major vote centers is naturally going to allow Clinton to post some large vote margins because these electorates are so large.

In the 19 swing states, however, where both competed, it is Trump who posted a net lead of more than 3.1 million popular votes.

We will continue to learn more about the 2016 vote, but these turnout and electoral facts should now rectify some early misconceptions.

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