Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Late Night Number Cruncher

2011 School Election: The Late Night Number Cruncher

The can't tell the players without a scorecard 2011 Iowa City school board election is in the history books. Congrats to the five winners and thanks to the five who tried and came up short. Here's the raw numbers.

As the numbers came in the candidates shook out into four tiers. Marla Swesey and Jeff McGinness were battling for first place bragging rights. Sally Hoelscher was a solid third, and Patti Fields, Phil Hemingway and Bob Porter were in a close race for the last slot, with Jeff Alden and Jim Tate well behind. The two year race turned out to be a landslide for Karla Cook over Julie Van Dyke.

The Winners

Marla Swesey: Manville Heights loved Marla, giving her 81%. But it was her big east side margins over McGinness, especially at City High, that put Swesey in first place. The one brown spot on the teacher's apple: 44% in Coralville.

Jeff McGinness: The wrestling star turned attorney had a strong district-wide performance, with at least 54% in every precinct. His best spots were Coralville and the west side (and Hills which gets its own sidebar).

Sally Hoelscher, with a solid set of endorsements and a strong identity with the Lucas PTO, topped 50% district wide, running best on the east and north sides. She only drew about a third of the vote in Coralville and North Liberty.

Patti Fields: As the lone incumbent in the race, Fields was the only available target for voter frustration. She held her own on the east side, losing to Hemingway but not by a lot. But the north and west part of the district stayed with her. Fields' 200-plus vote margin in Coralville over Phil Hemingway was the linchpin of the 86 vote win.

The Also-Rans

Phil Hemingway ran strong on the east side, but in the end may have been too strongly identified with one part of the district. He ran in the mid-20s in North Liberty and Coralville, and thus Fields wins. Hemingway's best non-Hills percentage was not at City and Lemme, as one would expect, but at Twain. The southeast side has a history of supporting throw the bums out sorts of candidates in local elections, so I can see them liking Phil.

Bob Porter: Coulda been a contender? Porter finished just a couple hundred votes back of Hemingway. He had some labor support and the newspaper endorsement, but didn't attract much support outside the middle of Iowa City (Twain, Mann, Lincoln).

Jeff Alden: I was wrong. There WAS a Coralville-North Liberty candidate, I'm just such an Iowa Cittian that I didn't notice. Alden scored 54% in North Liberty and 48% in Coralville, which accounts for some of the underperformance there by Swesey and Hoelscher. But he was below 25% everywhere else, pulling just 9% at Lemme and City High.

Jim Tate: Not much to see here; a late labor endorsement didn't get him above 21% anywhere.

The Two Year Race And The Hills Vote

Nobody in this election was more decisive than Hills. They voted for Swesey (83%), Hemingway (78), and McGinness (74). They split their fourth votes, mostly between Porter and Hoelscher. They did NOT vote for Patti Fields. She won just 11% of the vote.

Of course, Hills is by far the smallest school precinct, so it's a weak base for a campaign. Julie Van Dyke corrected my characterization of her home as "rural Hills," noting her Iowa City zip code. Duly noted, but while the signs said "Support Neighborhood Schools" (and remember, I'm a Roosevelt dad) Van Dyke was pretty strongly identified as "the Hills candidate."

That got her to 69% in Hills. Respectable, but I've seen better; Amana can whip up a 99% vote for its candidate when it wants to. And the rest of the district was a blowout for Karla Cook.

The Bullet Vote Factor

With a big field, there's not just voter confusion. There's some unease. I want to vote for these four candidates, but what if my vote for my fourth choice pushes my first choice into fifth place? I want to make sure my first choice wins, even if it means my fourth choice loses.

Your answer might be an alternative system like ranked voting (1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8) or cumulative voting (you get four votes and you can use them how you want. One vote each for your four top picks, or all four on your first choice.) Those would be a good answers, especially for this particular election, but they would not be correct answers.

What you would consider instead is "bullet voting," or deliberately not using all your available choices. It's a sometimes controversial tactic usually played below the radar, and it's hard to figure out how much of it has been happening.

My unique tool is the "Votes Per Voter" statistic. In a vote for more than one candidate election, add up the total votes received by all candidates. Then divide by the number of voters. The result will be some number less than the number of votes you can cast -- in this case, district wide, roughly 3.35. That means the average voter used 3.35 of the four votes they could cast.

Subtract that 3.35 from the four votes you could have cast, and you get .65. That's a reasonable estimate of the percentage of voters who under-voted (did not use all four choices). You still with me? Of course, this is guesswork; some folks could have cast just one vote. Some could even have cast zero, and voted only on the two term or the Kirkwood bond. You can even vote a totally blank ballot.

But it's the only tool I've come up with, so let's use that percentage as an estimate. So roughly two-thirds of voters either engaged in some strategery or simply didn't know who to choose with that last vote.

Geographically, under-voting was highest in Coralville and North Liberty, with a Votes Per Voter of about 3.2. The most diligent about marking all four? Hills, at 3.58 Votes Per Voter. If your goal is not getting your first choice to win, but getting your last choice to lose, using all your votes would be strategically smarter.

Kirkwood and Other Stuff

I haven't seen area wide numbers but in the two big counties the Kirkwood bond had a landslide four to one win in Johnson and a two to one win in Linn. Looks to me like they get their 60% to win.

A quiet day in Solon and Clear Creek Amana. But Lone Tree had its biggest non-bond election ever. Whatever challenger Tim Lorack was up to, it seems he had a colleague; a quarter of the voters went for a write-in. But incumbents Sheila Burr and Joel Yedlik were well ahead.

Des Moines passed its school board by ward measure. And Independence finally passed a bond issue on what I believe was the sixth try.

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