Thursday, November 8, 2012

It's the Numbers Stupid (an election post-mortem one day too late).

(Blogger's note: I learned after I wrote this post Wednesday that Quigley has not yet conceded and wants to wait until all the absentee votes are counted. If it changes the outcome of the race, we'll have to see how relevant the analysis below really is.)

Tom Quigley's loss Tuesday night in the 146th district statehouse race was a surprise to nearly everyone -- except maybe Tom Quigley.

(DISCLAIMER: Understand Mark Painter fans, this is not a knock on your candidate, who is an earnest and viable candidate. I'm sure he will do fine. This is just a post-election look at the numbers).

Were I a younger man, I would have written this Tuesday night for you all to read Wednesday morning, which is when such analysis is traditionally published.

Tom Quigley
But I'm getting older and Tuesday night was difficult enough as it was and, frankly, I just didn't have the energy.

Anyway, back to my engaging lead sentence.

Obviously, I've known Quigley for many years, ever since he won the seat and took over for the previous Republican holding the seat, Mary Anne Dailey, who took over from the previous  Republican who held if before her ... and so on and so on.

You get the idea.

Anyway, several years ago, Quigley calmly explained to me how well he understood his district.

Given Pottstown's tendency to vote for Democrats, the 146th has always been a balancing act.

He told me, and I'm paraphrasing here: "I know if I break even in Pottstown or fall just short, I'll be OK because I can make it up elsewhere in the district."

And given that the Republican Party in the 146th has the most effective vote counting apparatus around, I've watched those numbers get counted there many times over the years.

As retired dISTRICT Judge Tom Palladino and I were reminiscing Tuesday night, on many election nights I've sat at the right hand of the numbers compiler (or at least looked over their shoulders) since it was Janet Garner in the Elks Club on High Street, using a adding machine and a pencil and, for all intents and purposes, wearing a green eye shade.

Now we use spreadsheets.

And for the numerically challenged among us (Yes, I'm head of the class), spreadsheets really paint a plain picture.

Along the right hand side of where the vote totals for each votingprecinct were being entered, was a number showing by how much Quigley was either ahead or behind in each township, or the borough.

As a result, Quigley knew how close it was going to be early on and each precinct that came in was crucial.

How ironic, I thought, that the clearest evidence that "every vote counts" comes in a year when an unprecedented number of people voted. (More on that later).

All numbers are, of course, unofficial, and include no provisional ballots. But the picture they paint is clear nonetheless.

In Limerick, Quigley was ahead by 657 votes; in Lower Pottsgrove by 487 votes.

In Upper Pottsvgrove he was ahead by 299 votes and in the southern portion of New Hanover that is part of the 146th, he was ahead by 290 votes.

So where was the loss?

Well, in West Pottsgrove he was down by only 51 votes and in Royersford, of all places, by 94. Although surprising, that sure wasn't enough.

Mark Painter
It was in Pottstown, where there was no shortage of straight-ticket voting, that Painter won his victory. There, Painter was ahead by 1,914 votes.

With just one precinct to go, Quigley was down by 326 votes, and he needed the results from Limerick's second voting district, headquartered at the township building on Ridge Pike and home to more than 2,000 registered voters, to make up the difference.

In previous elections, Quigley had won that precinct handily, but this was no regular election and although he won it, he did't win it by enough.

Throughout the 146th, and the county as a whole, voters had turned out in droves and not in the usual patterns.

There was huge voter turn-out Tuesday.
According to unofficial results posted on the Montgomery County web site, no Pottstown polling place had fewer than 400 voters. This in places that are lucky to break 100 in an off-year election.

Those same results show nearly 75 percent of Montgomery County's eligible voters showed up at the polls.

Maybe that's why lines of voters in places like Upper Pottsgrove and New Hanover were out the door and, in Upper Pottsgrove's case, even snaked down Farmington Avenue.

In places like Pottstown's first ward, Obama won more than 80 percent of the vote.

"I think for some of these voters, they weren't even cognizant of the races lower down on the ticket," said Quigley. "Many of them probably did't even know who Tom Quigley is."

As you moved away from the borough's core, the Obama percentages dropped, but were still significant -- 60 percent at Pottstown Middle School.

And it was the numbers, not just the percentages, that really created the wave that blew Quigley out of the water.

The middle school hosted more than 1,200 voters. It is sometimes lucky to break 200, said Judge of Elections Mark Lawler.

In the fourth ward, it was the same -- more than 1,200 voters, 56 percent of whom voted for Obama. In wards five and six, the same: More than 1,000 voters and Obama won both, clocking in at 62 and 63.5 percent respectively.

More interesting was Pottstown's gloriously divided seventh ward.

Voting at the Ricketts Center, just under 1,000, gave 82 percent of its vote to Obama. Further down the ticket, painter won 646 votes to Quigley's 161.

In the Seventh Ward's Rosedale section, Romney won 54.5 percent of the vote and Quigley got 400 votes to Painter's 240.

But while Pottstown's Obama tsunami gave Painter a crucial and immediate advantage, there was a more subtle shift evident as well.

Many more were voting Democratic even outside Pottstown.

Consider some of the totals from the presidential race, totals that actually had me muttering "unbelievable" under my breath.

In Lower Pottsgrove's second district, all results for Obama Vs. Romney were literally within 20 votes of each other, with Obama winning all of them.

Obama won in West Pottsgrove as well and even in Upper Pottsgrove, where Romney won, it was only by a mere 41 votes.

In his analysis Tuesday night, Quigley mentioned not only the Pottstown tsunami, but the changing demographics in places like Limerick, which had previously served as his back-stop.

Limerick hasn't changed that much, with Romney winning all but the fourth precinct.

But Quigley could have made his demographic observation about the entire district, or even the entire county.

Obama squeaked out a victory in some unexpected places, like precincts of affluent Upper Providence and he won two out of three precincts in Collegeville, and one out of three in Perkiomen Township, although Obama was a lost cause in neighboring Trappe.

The same was true in Douglass (Mont.), where Romney held a comfortable lead, as he did in all three New Hanover voting precincts.

But even in places like Schwenksville, Pennsburg, East Greenville and Green Lane, Obama won, barely, and in Red Hill, it was a an effective draw.

And Obama won in two out of three precincts in Skippack, those wins by sizeable margins too.

And in Royersford, Quigley's home town where he was once a popular mayor, turnout in the borough's second voter precinct, where Obama won by 204 votes, Quigley lost by 72 votes.

It seems, therefore, when looking at the numbers, that Quigley lost the election probably not because of anything he did, or Mark Painter did, but because in the 146th, Barack Obama either won most contests or at least fought Romney to a draw.

The election machine tickets told the story.

I didn't have time to check them all, and not all precincts arrived at the old Lakeside Inn that way. (Remember, we still had a newspaper to get out for Wednesday.)

Also, the results posted on the county web site do not list the percentage of straight party voters, but on those tickets I did get to examine, it was an obvious factor.

So what does all this number-crunching mean?

The answer is surprisingly simple.

Every vote counts.

And even in the face of efforts to suppress votes through voter ID, or draw district lines so heavily Democratic or Republican voting blocks can be balanced out by other areas -- a big turn-out can turn all those careful calculations on their head.

And although I find it inspiring, it also stirs the cynic in me to safely predict it won't happen again for another four years, and even then only if we're lucky and the presidential race is as hotly contested as this one was.

In the meantime, for local elections that have a disproportionately larger effect on our lives, the numbers will, in all likelihood, tell a different story.

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