Those partisan maps we see after election day – showing who prevailed in which jurisdiction (usually state or county) – mesmerizing, and useful – to a point. But seeing several of them in sequence often tells us much more than a single one will.
For example, the map atop this column shows the Oregon results in the presidential race this year. You won’t have to strain to quickly grasp that the gray counties were those won by Democrat Joe Biden, who took 56.5% of the vote, and the reddish counties went to Republican Donald Trump. There were no great shocks here and few even modest surprises (the pattern is very similar to recent elections), though someone unfamiliar with Oregon’s population patterns might be struck by Biden winning the state decisively but just a quarter of the state’s counties. The clued-in would know that the bulk of the state’s population lives in those counties.
(Of particular note: The strong Biden vote in Deschutes County – Bend – which has a long-standing Republican tradition but has been shifting blue in recent cycles; it may be completing that transition.)
The pattern is very similar to that for Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, who won a similar percentage of the vote but a few more counties. All of those county town halls may have given him a little stronger base in some smaller competitive counties.
But let’s move over to the ballot issues, where things look a little different.
They look a lot different in the case of Measure 107, a constitutional amendment aimed at tightening Oregon’s awfully loose rules on campaign finance contributions and reporting. It passed overwhelmingly, with 78.3% of the vote, but strikingly also classed in every Oregon county. Nowhere was the vote even close. Apparently we can agree on some things.
Three measures on the ballot concerned the legal status and tax revenues on controlled substances: 108 increased (considerably cigarette taxes and imposed restrictions on vaping; 109 allows medically supervised use of psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”); and 110 greatly reduced penalties for small-quantity possession of most still-illegal drugs (including heroin and meth) and redirection much of the marijuana tax revenue toward drug addiction treatment. All were appeared to be highly controversial and none seemed guaranteed of passage. But all of them did, by decisive margins (a landslide in the case of 108).
On a county level, the votes for the latter two drug measures tracked fairly closely the presidential vote; most of the Biden counties also voted for those measures. But some interesting additions also appeared. Curry County in the far southwest, now a Republican county which went for Trump, voted for all three of the ballot issues. And so did two politically marginal counties – Jackson (Medford) and Wasco (The Dalles) which this time voted narrowly for Trump. These are counties on the borderline.
The comparisons are noteworthy. And then we can get into the precincts …