Election Day: Before vs. After

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 10, 2017 — Voters went to the polls in three places Tuesday to elect two governors, state legislators, and a new member of Congress. Multiple local elections, including mayoral contests in 59 of the nation’s largest cities, with New York, Minneapolis, Seattle, and Charlotte among them, also were on the various ballots.

Much was written and discussed about the Virginia gubernatorial election leading into Election Day, clearly the most important contest from a political perspective. It appeared clear that the campaign between Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie was a tight one. That proved not to be the case with Northam’s nine-point win.

Polling suggested that either candidate could win. Most surveys showed either a dead heat or Northam maintaining a small lead. Research for the last Virginia gubernatorial race, that in 2013 when Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) was elected, badly under-estimated Republican strength. Therefore, should the same methodologies be present in this latest data, Gillespie’s chances of victory may be better than the raw numbers indicate. That line of thinking was dashed by the results.

The open New Jersey governor’s race had not been particularly dramatic. The latest poll before Election Day from Quinnipiac University (Oct. 29-Nov. 5; 662 likely New Jersey voters), found that former US Ambassador to Germany and Wall Street executive Phil Murphy (D) continued to maintain a strong double-digit lead over Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno (R). The Q-Poll showed a 53-41 percent spread in Murphy’s favor, which was actually down a couple of points when compared to other available data. That actually held pretty close to the prediction, as Murphy won 55.6 percent over Guadagno’s 42.3 percent.

It was clear from the outset that Guadagno would have a difficult time separating herself from unpopular outgoing Gov. Chris Christie (R) and, despite the two of them having a reportedly frosty relationship, polling shows that voters identify her with the present administration. As a result, her campaign failed to successfully establish her own presence. Therefore, as expected Murphy cruised to a relatively easy victory, which was called shortly after the New Jersey polls closed.

The special election to replace resigned Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Alpine/Sandy) also occured Tuesday in the state’s 3rd District, a seat that stretches from the Salt Lake population center all the way to the region known as the Four Corners, where the states of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico all meet at one particular point. Republican nominee John Curtis, the mayor of Provo, is a prohibitive favorite to defeat Democratic nominee Kathryn Allen, a physician, along with four independent and minor party candidates. Curtis prevailed in a big way, overwhelming Allen by about 30 points — 57.6 percent to 27.1 percent (with some precinct results still outstanding).

There had been precious little in the way of polling released for this race, though the Provo Daily Herald refered to a series of surveys within three weeks of the election that found Curtis typically hovering around the 50 percent mark, with Dr. Allen only near 20 percent. In a district where Hillary Clinton could not even finish second – she dropped two points below Independent candidate Evan McMullin – it was implausible to believe that an upset would occur there.

The voting system was another cause for concern. The state is experimenting with an all-mail election, but major mistakes were made in the primary. Election officials accidentally mailed over 60,000 ballots to unaffiliated voters, none of who could legally vote in the closed special primary. The congressional outcome was not affected, but other races on the ballot were, meaning some individuals who were originally called winners just found themselves denied their victory when only the legal ballots were counted.

The officials say all of the earlier flaws have been corrected and will not be repeated. It is likely we will have final tallies by sometime today. District wide, the turnout is expected to be in the 30-35 percent range, meaning approximately 100,000 total voters.

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