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I don’t know about you, but I’m sitting on pins and needles waiting for some election results, and feeling a bit exhausted by it all. For the past 24 hours I’ve been constantly hitting refresh on a dozen different websites.

There’s the seesaw battle over whether Democrats or Republicans will control the U.S. Senate or U.S. House. The Senate majority may not be decided until a December 6 runoff in Georgia, though various reports from Democrats in Nevada optimistically project a Senate win there (based on most of the remaining votes will be coming from the Las Vegas area). Coupled with a likely win in Arizona, that would give Democrats control of the Senate, regardless of what happens in the Georgia runoff.

But even more anxiously, I’ve been charting how the various ballot measures for Ranked Choice Voting have been faring across the country. All in all, it has been a hugely successful Election Night for RCV: victories in two Portland’s on opposite coasts, both Portland OR and Portland ME, plus in Multnomah County OR (Oregon’s largest county), Evanston IL (a Chicago suburb), Fort Collins CO and Ojai CA.

But there are two more ballot initiatives for Ranked Choice Voting, one in Seattle and the second in Nevada, that are too close to call. One of them a real nail biter.

In Nevada, the RCV ballot measure is ahead, 52 to 48%, but with 10% of the vote still to count it’s not a sure thing. This ballot measure has been attacked by both GOP and Democratic Party establishments, which are portraying it as an assault against the two-party system itself because RCV was combined with an open, top-five primary. It would empower the many independent voters in Nevada, and when you are part of the duopoly that introduces an unacceptable level of risk.

In Seattle, voters are choosing among THREE electoral systems – either the status quo, which is the crummy plurality method used in the top-two primary system there, or ranked choice voting or approval voting. But the powers-that-be booby-trapped the vote – instead of having a separate ballot measure for all three methods, they had one ballot measure for RCV and a second one for approval voting, preceded by a completely separate vote on a ballot question asking voters if they wanted any voting reform at all.

How is that turning out? In the much anticipated showdown between RCV and approval voting, RCV delivered a decisive knockout blow, winning 75% to 25%. It was like Alabama (RCV) vs. Canisius College (AV), and the Crimson Tide rolled over them for the victory.

BUT…on the first ballot question of whether voters want any voting reform at all, unfortunately the longtime stodgy downtown daily, Seattle Times, and some other influential publications all recommended voting NO against reform. Even during this time of great public unrest over the state of US democracy, apparently no reform is good enough for the Gray Lady of Seattle.

So at the moment of this writing, the Yes vote in favor of reform is running behind in a cliffhanger, 49.45% to 50.55%. However, based on previous election results in a nonpresidential election year (2018), I’m guessing there are anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 ballots still to be counted. So there’s hope yet.

Pet Peeve of the Moment.

The fact that I have to “guess” at how many ballots are remaining in Seattle, Nevada or any of these elections is, frankly, ridiculous. This has always bugged me, this inadequacy of many elections managers in various parts of the country to publish clear and comprehensible election results. Why is it so hard to let voters know how many ballots remain to be counted? Without that information, it’s impossible to know if the election result is close to being finalized, or whether the result might flip. And so we wait, and wait, and wait…

This is especially important today, with so many voters choosing to mail in their ballots, or to drop them off in a collection box. As the number of Americans voting by mail-in ballots (a.k.a. as “absentee ballots”) has increased dramatically, it’s become impossible to know how close the contest really is on Election Night or for days afterward.

In my precinct in San Francisco, I like to vote just before the polls close around 8 PM, so I can see how many people have voted in my precinct. The numbers have been slowly going down, election after election. My precinct voters used to average around 450 or so, rising to as high as 700 in an especially high turnout election, such as a competitive presidential race.

But this past Tuesday? I went to my neighbor’s garage where the polling station was set up, and was shocked to find that a mere thirty-five voters had voted in the precinct. Instead, there on the floor, was the mail-in ballot drop-off box, and it was stuffed to the gills. As I stood there, minutes before 8 PM, car after car pulled up, someone jumping out with their absentee ballot tucked in their hand, and stuffing it into the box that could barely hold anymore.

In San Francisco this year, I estimate that only 20% of voters will vote in the precincts. The rest will vote by absentee/mail-in ballots. That long and revered tradition of tramping out to your polling station, no matter the wind, rain, earthquake or wildfire, is slowly – dying? – no, I suppose it’s just being replaced by a new emerging tradition.

But that new trend means it is going to take much, much longer to find out election results. Americans are not used to waiting for election results. We like spectacle and entertainment, whether grainy videos of Neil Armstrong walking live on the moon or a Lebron James 360 degree rim-shattering slamdunk. We want the life-and-death struggle over who is going to win to be decided on Election Night. We’ve enjoyed that ritual for so long that it is a cultural touchstone.

And that is what is slowly dying. We are going to have to get used to waiting for results. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t allow 80% of voters to mail in their ballots or drop them off on election day, and not expect to wait days and days for the counting. It takes time for an enormous army of election staff – most of them volunteers – to process all those ballots. The envelopes must be opened, signatures compared, the ballots have to be flattened and placed into the rotation to be fed into the voting equipment, and more.

That’s best case scenario. That’s assuming you don’t have MAGA crazies standing there as election “observers” ready to shout election fraud to any TV camera that will pay attention to them over any ridiculously perceived irregularity. And let me tell you, when you are counting hundreds of thousands of ballots in a large city or millions across a state, irregularities are going to happen. All explainable, if one is willing to listen, but listening is not these activists strength, I’ve noticed.

Believe me, I get it, election administrators have a very hard job, particularly in today’s climate. The registrar of voters of a large county in California told me that he has to devote almost a fulltime employee to do nothing but handle public records requests from election conspiracy zealots who demand information to confirm their fact-less suspicions, and when that information doesn’t do the job they demand still more. By law, these public records requests must be fulfilled within 10 calendar days, and it drains serious staff time.

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That’s all the more reason that election chiefs need to improve their transparency, and some of them are finally wising up. Here is a link to the San Francisco Department of Elections website in which it provides preliminary election results, including an estimate of how many ballots remain to be counted:

Approximate number of ballots left to count: 137,000

With this number, now I know that it could take them several more days to finish the count. So any contest that is close, whether ranked choice voting, plurality or top two runoff, I’m going to have to be patient and wait until I know who the winner is going to be. The least that election departments can do is to provide that important information to anxious candidates, their voters and the media that is trying to report elections.

Amazing Mary Peltola walloping Sarah Palin again.

Mary Peltola may turn out to be one of those remarkable politicians that comes along only every once in a while. Here she is, a Democrat in a heavily conservative state, an Alaska Native in a state that has not exactly won Albert Schweitzer awards for racial tolerance, running in a ranked choice system that she has never encountered before. After beating Sarah Palin by a few points last August to fill a vacancy, amidst much controversy calling her an illegitimate winner, now she’s on the threshold of beating Palin once again -- and by an even greater victory margin.

Peltola has garnered 47.3% of first choice rankings – an increase of seven points over her August total. Palin has 26.6%, a decline of nearly five points, while her fellow Republican Nick Begich has 24.2%, a decline of five points. In theory, if Palin picked up the second rankings from every one of Begich voters, she could still reach a bare majority and win. In practice, Palin and Begich can’t stand each other, and in the August special election 29% of Begich voters ranked Peltola as their second choice. Another 21% declined to rank a second choice at all. So much for “Rank the Red” GOP solidarity.

Also, most Lower 48 observers don’t realize that, while Alaska is a heavily conservative state, it is actually not that strong of a Republican state. Indeed, fewer than 25% of registered voters in Alaska are Republicans, which is about the same as the percentage of Republicans in heavily-blue California.

Here’s the real story that the pundits keep missing. One of the defining characteristics of the Alaskan political landscape is that most voters are in fact registered as some type of independent. A whopping sixty percent of registered voters have chosen "Non-Partisan," "Undeclared" or Alaskan Independence Party as their political affiliation. While the vast majority of those independents are conservatives – which is why Trump won Alaska by 10 points in 2020, and a Democrat had not won Alaska’s lone congressional seat since the early 1970s – they also tend to be no-nonsense, self-reliant types who don’t much care for political parties any more than they care for big government. They have a low tolerance for candidates who are too “Washington,” such as a former reality TV celebrity like Palin who resigned halfway through her term as governor to gallivant in the Lower 48.

Meanwhile, Peltola has smartly positioned herself as a moderate Democrat on most issues who is willing to listen respectfully. In a thousand ways she shows that she is nothing like the Eva Peron drama queen of Alaska, Sarah Palin. It looks like all those independent conservative Alaskans are about to send her to Washington DC as their lone House representative. Congresswoman Peltola is going to be an interesting star to watch her ascent.

The Lost Conversation that is killing American democracy.

In the aftermath of this national election, many voting rights and legal experts are debating the actual effects that redistricting abuses had on which party will win majority control in the US House of Representatives. The Republicans already had maneuvered to win state legislative majorities in states like Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, thereby winning the right to gerrymander the heck out of their state’s district lines. And with six out of nine of the black-robed US Supreme Court strongly tilted towards being a choir for the right wing John Birch Society, there were few legal restraints capable of stopping the most egregious gerrymanders.

So for those redistricting experts paying close attention, they have been holding their collective breath, anticipating the worst. Instead, not only has the worst not happened, but the usual low level of competitive races actually increased a bit. Ten years ago, following the 2012 redistricting, there were only 33 districts out of 435 with margins of seven points or smaller. This year, there have been at least 53 such districts, and counting. Once all the ballots are counted, it appears that Republicans will end up with one of the weakest performances in decades by the out-of-power party against a first-term president’s party. In 1994, after two years of a Bill Clinton presidency, Republicans gained 54 House seats, and in 2010 they gained 63 seats against President Barack Obama.

But so focused is everyone on this horse race of who will win and lose legislative majorities, that something crucial has been lost in this discussion. Regardless of how these redistricting wars turn out, tens of millions of voters across the country are the real losers because, no matter how the lines are drawn, they happen to live in the wrong districts. They are orphaned voters, i.e. Democrats living in GOP districts, Republicans in Democratic districts, and third party and independent voters everywhere. Who will speak up for them?

The irony here is that if these voting rights attorneys and redistricting practitioners get their wish, which is that the GOP gerrymanders are less successful and there are more competitive districts, that means even more Americans end up in districts in which they vote for losing candidates! It results in even more orphaned voters.

This is one of the most daunting, zero-sum, “if you win, I lose” dilemmas of winner-take-all district elections. As long as America’s representative democracy is bolted tight to geographic-based, winner-take-all districts, voters will be subdivided into the unequal categories of “winners” and “losers.” The former are the lucky ones who happen to live in the right place and therefore win a very limited and precious commodity, “representation.” The latter are the orphans without an electoral home.

America desperately needs to plot a course to the future in which representative democracy is not based exclusively on geography, not based exclusively on where a voter lives, but instead is based substantially on providing representation centered on what a voter thinks. The antiquated US democracy needs to upgrade to the more modern representation scheme known as proportional representation.

Fortunately more and more political scientists and voting rights advocates are realizing this. Recently more than 200 political experts signed a public letter to Congress saying, “It is clear that our winner-take-all system — where each U.S. House district is represented by a single person — is fundamentally broken.” They further called on Congress to “adopt inclusive, multimember districts with competitive and responsive proportional representation.”

The list of signatories includes nine of the 18 living U.S.-based winners of the Johan Skytte Prize, the prestigious Swedish award that has become a kind of unofficial Nobel for political science.

It’s late, time for bed. I hope tomorrow we get some more election results and clear tidings over the trajectory of our representative democracy.

Democracy SOS