Community

Fewer Democrats than Hinsdale County

I’m looking at my primary ballots.  Montana has an extremely civilized method of conducting primary elections without forcing people to register with one questionable party or the other.  It’s nice – in South Dakota, the most fervent Democrat I knew had been registered as a Republican for 40 years, just so he could vote in the primaries.  Here, in the privacy of my own home, I can pick the party I want, send it in, and never have to publicly endorse either party.

My Democratic Party ballot includes the names of only three democrats – Monica Tranel, Tom Winter, and Cora Neumann.  They are democrats – Tranel lives in Missoula, Winter in Polson, and Neumann in Bozo.  In short, there are no Lincoln County democrats on the ballot in Lincoln County.  And I don’t have any particular preference for the other 3 – though wikipedia says Monica was an Olympic rower.  I’m not sure that overcomes the achievement of becoming an attorney.  I can think of a couple good reasons to keep attorneys out of the places where laws are made.  Similar arguments go for the clergy.

I’ve checked the telephone book, and found no evidence of Alferd Packer in Lincoln County – but if memory serves (and it does) the 1883 sentencing quote seems relevant: “Alferd Packer, stand up you son of a bitch.  There were seven democrats in Hinsdale County, and you, you voracious man-eating son of a bitch, you ate five of them.  I sentence you to be hanged by the neck until you are dead, dead, dead.  You republican cannibal.  I would sentence you to hell itself but the statutes do not permit it.”  (You can check Alferd Packer out on line – I’m writing from memory because I’d rather print the legend – the actual sentence may have been a bit milder)  Here’s Alferd’s picture:

So I look at the empty democratic primary ballot, with the thought that it is difficult to have a two-party system if one party doesn’t show up.  What societal trends have occurred that the metaphysical ghost of Alferd Packer has his imprint on our ballots?  Heck – Alferd left 2 democrats in Hinsdale County – the closest democrat on our ballot is in Polson. 

The ballots show only a single choice in partisan candidates for local political offices.  If I want to make that choice, I can vote for either Brian Teske or Stuart Crismore to fill the blank spot as county commissioner from Libby.  Doubtless, both fine men.  Have to be.  It’s the only spot on the ballot where we actually have an election.  The other candidates will move unopposed into the offices in November.

We need to stop Alferd Packer’s ghost.  Encourage your local democrats to come out of the closet.  I can remember one brave democrat at the county fair, trying to sell me a raffle ticket, with the argument, “Your side has been in power and caused all these problems. You should at least kick a dollar into helping us.”  I asked “Who are the libertarians who have been in power?” and he left.  I’m thinking that I should have kicked a couple dollars in just to encourage the dems to come out into the open – that blank ballot does show the death of a two-party system . . . and history gives me plenty of examples of single party systems.

Let’s be kind to our local democrats, and see if we can stop the ghost of Alferd Packer from roving around Lincoln County.

Community

Why Can’t We Have An Election?

I just got my primary ballot and noticed the extreme lack of candidates. On both ballots there are plenty of positions with one candidate or no candidate at all. If you can only vote for one candidate, is it an election?

The following are running unopposed:

  • Michael Cuffe for State Senator
  • Niel A. Duram for State Representative
  • Jim Hammons for County Commissioner
  • Robin Benson for Clerk and Recorder/Auditor/Assessor/Surveyor
  • Darren Short for Sheriff
  • Steven Schnackenberg for Coroner
  • Marcia Boris for County Attorney
  • Taralee McFadden for County Superintendent of Schools
  • Sedaris Carlberg for County Treasurer
  • Mathew Cuffe for District Court Judge
  • Jay C Sheffield for Justice of the Peace

There is no candidate for public administrator. The only races with multiple candidates will be for United States Representative, for County Commissioner (district 1), for Supreme Court Justice #1, and for Supreme Court Justice #2.

In short, there were multiple candidates to vote for in only 25% of the races.

When was the last election?

It feels a bit odd to be asking “When was the last time there was an election?” about something local. As a kid, I sort of assumed that elections happened everywhere in our country, as scheduled, and it was only foreign countries that lacked elections. Unfortunately, it’s a question worth asking. About the Trego School Board, certainly. Last year, we were writing about vacant school board positions, and the need to get an application in to the school clerk, for an election to be held in May. That’s what should happen (every year). What actually happens (and not just on… Continue reading When was the last election?

Community

Lincoln County Facing More Elections by Acclamation

With the primary ballots available (due back by June 7th), it’s become evident that we can expect more candidates elected by acclamation, since 69% of the races are candidates running uncontested.

Some of our previous comments on local elections:

Be Nice to the Candidates

I can claim that I am an elected school trustee.  So can the school board members in Fortine and Eureka.  Yet I (and probably most of them) was elected by acclamation.  There may be a more politically correct way to describe it – but the reality is that I was elected without anyone voting for me.  A lot of school trustees share that reality – but I don’t believe it is a good situation. The challenge is that, on far too many local boards and commissions, we have the same situation.  When a candidate can be elected by acclamation, without…

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Uncontested Elections

What do you call it when only one person runs for office? An uncontested election. It seems like this must be a bad thing, and also that it is increasing in frequency. Is it? It seems, given the explanation about removing term limits at the last Interbel Meeting, that the situation is at least increasing in the telephone cooperatives. Watching the local school board shows a similar trend. How common are they by state? The data’s a bit hard to find- but at least some of it is out there. According to ballotpedia.org in 2020, 100% of Wisconsin’s local elections…

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Consolidated Polling Increases The Cost of Voting in Person

It’s only about four and a half miles from downtown Trego to the Volunteer Fire Department for Fortine, which is where we used to go to vote. Going into Eureka (as per that letter we all received from the county) will increase the distance by about thirteen miles (according to google maps). The distance I am supposed to travel to vote just got multiplied by a bit over 3. Of course, I live in downtown Trego, which means that my distance increased less than most. Looking at a map, it looks like the furthest up Fortine Creek Road are now…

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Community, Weird Words

Sharing the definition of Impeccable for the County Clerk

A January 13 article in the Tobacco Valley News described how a box of ballots was left behind on November 3 and counted days later.  The Western News in Libby brought the matter to light on January 5.  The kudos and praise belong to our local press – blunders such as this need to be brought to the light of day.  The article described how the ballots were counted late – and the TV News quoted Robin Benson, county clerk and recorder: “I still think that the election staff, Chris, did an impeccable and amazing job . . .”

The Cambridge English Dictionary shares the definition of impeccable: perfect, with no problems or bad parts.   What was it the guy in the Princess Bride said?  “You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.”  Of course, she may have thought impeccable was a relative term, and been using Georgia standards.  Transparency doesn’t call for the media announcing the error and the correction.

Another TV News quote from Josh Letcher described the former election administrator.  “He did great things.  He put his heart into it.”  It is good to know that Nelson‘s heart is in the right place – but it would be more reassuring had his head been in the right place.  It’s a bit harder to sneer at Georgia when this happens here.  Again, high praise to the media for bringing this to light.

Demography

Polling Responses over Time

Polling response rates also affect polling results.  As State Demographer in a rural state (South Dakota), changes in how the Census obtained and disseminated data made us increasingly dependent on the American Community Survey.  It was definitely more current than the decennial census – but the small numbers of participants made it less reliable.  Deborah Griffin, in “Measuring Survey Nonresponse by Race and Ethnicity” concluded: “The data suggest that special efforts are needed to address differential survey response rates – to increase the rates for areas with high concentrations of AIANs, Blacks and Hispanics . . . New methods to address low mail response must be developed.”

On February 27, 2019, PEW published “Response rates in telephone surveys have resumed their decline.”  The critical part of the article is shown in the graph below – in 1997, the response rate was 36%, twenty years later it was 6%.  Kind of makes polling more difficult – particularly when you project the decline down to 2020.

On 10/26, PEW published “What the 2020 electorate looks like by party, race and ethnicity, age, education and religion” and said, “Around a third of registered voters in the U.S. (34%) identify as independents, while 33% identify as Democrats and 29% identify as Republicans, according to a Center analysis of Americans’ partisan identification based on surveys of more than 12,000 registered voters in 2018 and 2019.”   Contrast that with Gallup’s findings.

In 2013, the Research Council of Norway published, “Fewer Willing to Participate in Surveys.”  The most relevant observation to political polling is “In general, NSD sees that young, single men living in urban areas are the least likely to respond, while older women are the most willing.” 

Polling accuracy depends on random selection.  As the proportion of respondents becomes smaller, the quality of randomness declines.  Causation is not proven by correlation, it must be inferred.  My inference is that the middle has stopped responding to polls – pollsters are getting responses from the same ideologically extreme friends who post political memes, and not from the center.  When 94% of those surveyed do not respond, we’re looking at some extreme nonresponse bias.

Demography

Things that make Surveys Hard

I was asked to describe the problems with political polls. It is a great year for showing the problems in predicting from opinion polls. Projecting isn’t the problem – we take partial duration series (like flood data) and project the likelihood of larger and smaller events occurring. In my 70 years on the planet, I’ve seen a couple of hundred-year floods on the same river – and it isn’t a big deal. When you project a hundred-year occurrence from 38 years of data, it is a question of how wrong you’re going to be. Poker odds are easy – there are only 52 cards (unless you play with a joker). A pair of dice have only 12 potential combinations. The potential combinations of weather and climate during our planet’s existence aren’t quite infinite, but they approach it.

In January, 2016, Gallup announced that “Democratic, Republican Identification Near Historical Lows”, and explained that 26% identified as Republicans, 29% as Democrats. On January 16, 2020 30% identified as Republican, 27% as Democrats. Gallup’s most recent stats were on September 14, with 28% identifying as Republican and 27% Democrats. If I start with a good model based on the 2016 election results, I have a problem in 2020.

For political polls, our universe consists of registered voters – but that gets to be a problem: “The Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) found that 244 counties across the United States exceed 100% voter registration. Counties in 28 states plus the District of Columbia and Alaska have more voters registered than adults living in those jurisdictions.

After a review of records submitted to the federal government, The Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) discovered 244 counties in which voter registration levels exceed the number of living adults in the jurisdiction. Additionally, 279 counties have registration rates ranging from 95%-99%, which PILF determines are “implausibly high.”

Polling is based on “best available data.” It is a coincidence that the initials are BAD. Starting from poor data makes it hard to develop a way to project with accuracy, and it’s hard enough anyway.

California has more immigrants than any other state – in 2017, 27% of California’s residents were foreign born – and a little over half of them are US citizens. About one of eight contacts is a non-citizen and not eligible to vote. If you survey Montana, 2% of the residents are immigrants, and 58% of those are naturalized citizens. Less than 1 percent of Montana residents aren’t citizens. Few calls reach non-voters. It isn’t easy to develop a national model that projects surveys accurately.

And then there are the folks who lie to pollsters – in 2012, polls in South Dakota had shown strong support for legislation that would limit abortion access – but the vote turned out the other way. It was the first time I encountered what is now called “the shy Trump voter.” When you think about it, it isn’t particularly rational to believe the guy who calls you and interrupts dinner has your privacy as a main concern. On that issue, it looks like 3% or more of the survey respondents weren’t truthful. Face it, there was more than a zero chance that the voice on the other end of the phone might report your comments back to your Aunt Sally!

I am glad I never had to make a living polling and predicting elections. It’s easy to look at the data and predict Trump will carry Montana and Biden will carry California. It’s a bit more risky to project Florida, or North Carolina, or Ohio.

Community

Be Nice to the Candidates

I can claim that I am an elected school trustee.  So can the school board members in Fortine and Eureka.  Yet I (and probably most of them) was elected by acclamation.  There may be a more politically correct way to describe it – but the reality is that I was elected without anyone voting for me.  A lot of school trustees share that reality – but I don’t believe it is a good situation.

The challenge is that, on far too many local boards and commissions, we have the same situation.  When a candidate can be elected by acclamation, without a single vote on a ballot, the concept of representative government breaks down.  On local district boards, it has broken.

The first reason to be nice to the candidates – all of them – is that they have expressed a willingness to spend time in meetings.  I’ve spent a lot of time in meetings.  Faculty meetings, departmental meetings, board meetings.  Usually I left with the feeling that a couple of hours of my life had just been taken from me.  I don’t care which party a candidate belongs to – he or she has expressed a willingness to attend meetings.  That deserves courtesy at the least.

Encouraging more candidates – being nice to them, regardless of party, just might reduce the need for term limits.  Often, we wind up with a long-serving politico who claims 10, 20 or 30 years of experience, but actually has two years experience repeated 5, 10 or 15 times. 

Encourage the candidates.  Reduce the unpleasantness of running for office – any office.  I will feel that I have done my job as a school trustee well if a better candidate beats me like a drum, with over half the district actually voting.  Elected by acclamation is a mark of a democracy in decline.