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Posts published in “Day: October 7, 2006”

Crossover undervotes?

Some county elections offices do and some don't make specific counts of "undervotes," which is the difference between the number of valid ballots counted and the number of votes in a particular race - the number of voters who bypassed a particular race. The undervote most commonly gets larger - which is to say, the vote gets smaller - as you move down a ballot. In presidential years, the undervote for president is usually microscopic, while the undervote for sewer district commissioner might be substantial.

The Spokane Spokesman-Review site has a provocative post on the undervote in last month's primary election - Republican division - for the office of sheriff. You might usually expect the undervote there to run rather high. In this case, the race was heated - signs and billsboards and letters to the editor about both candidates, Ozzie Knezovich and Cal Walker, were visible all over - so that logically would diminish the undervote. (Knezovich recently had been appointed sheriff, and was facing in the primary an incumbent Spokane Valley police chief. He is considered highly likely to win the general election.) But the Spokesman's Jim Camden checked the numbers and found it was unusually small, only about 3%. By comparison, the undervote in the U.S. Senate primary was about 10% (a fairly normal level for such a race).

Camden also, however, noted something else:

"The Democratic sheriff’s primary has the largest drop-off of voters, with nearly one in four not voting for newcomer James Flavel, or writing in someone else’s name. That’s more undervotes, by far, than any other Democratic primary in the county. What this suggests is that voters who took Republican ballots just for the sheriff’s race are either Democrats who are likely to shift back to their candidates in November, or independents who aren’t yet sold on the rest of the GOP ticket."

Another piece of the puzzle, as Spokane County works out what it will do when the parties compete on November 7.

Doc’s diagnosis

We're now into newspaper endorsement season, which we'll be following with some closeness over the next couple of weeks. We don't do this because newspaper endorsements have an especially large impact on election results: In our experience, they usually don't. But these endorsements often tell quite a bit about both the newspapers and the candidates they endorse, and those they don't.

Yakima Herald-RepublicAn October 3 editorial in the Yakima Herald-Republic, which was not an endorsement at all but rather about an incident in the endorsement process, makes the point.

Like many other newspapers which endorse (not all do), the Herald-Republic customarily interviews the candidates first, often and preferably with both in the room at the same time. That paper has done these interviews for a long time, apparently decades at least, and none of the candidates solicited has turned down an interview, until now.

That declinee would be incumbent Republican Representative Doc Hastings, seeking his seventh term in Congress. He sent the paper a note outlining his reasons: "I'm certain you understand that during each election year candidates for public office are approached by a wide range of organizations and media outlets desiring to make endorsements in their races. Of course, common sense dictates that candidates decide on a case-by-case basis which media and other endorsements to seek. In my case, since I'm not seeking the Herald-Republic's endorsement, it won't be necessary to include me in your endorsement interview schedule this year."

The Herald-Republic mused, "Instead, Hastings is apparently more comfortable with an Oct. 31 session with his hometown Tri-City Herald, which endorsed him two years ago - while we endorsed his opponent, Democrat Sandy Matheson. Surely that development wouldn't influence Hastings' decision to turn us down this year. Or would it?"

The paper then concluded it would: "His statement indicates he'll pick and choose those he will grace with his presence. And, while that is certainly his right, that's a shame, too, because it could tarnish by implication the endorsement process of other organizations and media outlets. Do his actions suggest he will only meet with those he thinks will rubber-stamp his re-election bid?"

In Hastings' previous runs, the Herald-Republic endorsed him twice and his opponent four times. Especially in this year's environment, when Hastings' new role as House ethics chair is getting increasingly tough to defend, Hastings' Democratic opponent Richard Wright (a decent candidate who still seems a longshot to win on November 7) looks like a fair bet to win the H-R nod.

Still, as the Yakima paper noted, all this has a tendency to degrade the political conversation, forcing even newspapers which make a real effort at neutrality into a partisan corner. That's not a positive note in an increasingly harsh campaign season.