In my first post on under voting in Knox County, Ohio, I introduced the concept of under voting and discussed patterns of under voting in races in Knox County involving candidates. I found that the Gambier precincts exhibited levels of under voting that were below the Knox County norm in the presidential race, but that under voting rates in Gambier were much higher than the Knox County norm in other races down ballot.
This piece examines the effect of under voting on an issue race, focusing on the Knox County School Levy election that took place on November 6, 2012.
The Mount Vernon School Levy failed narrowly on November 6th, losing by a margin of 6813 votes in favor (49.3%) to 7014 votes against (50.7%). Had the levy gotten 202 more votes (a tie results in a loss), it would have passed. In the Gambier precincts, 241 votes or ~18.1% of votes cast were under votes. In the non-Gambier precincts, 390 votes or ~3.2% of all votes cast were under votes.
So, getting back to the central question, did the high rate of under voting in the Gambier precincts cost Mount Vernon Schools the November Levy Election? The answer to that question, of course, is complicated. Below, I will examine four alternative scenarios, each of which results in a slightly different answer.
Scenario One- Everyone votes, under voters all vote for the levy: This scenario, while perhaps unrealistic, is the most optimistic for the levy. Had the under voters in Gambier all voted for the levy, the levy would have passed by a margin of 7054 votes to 7014 votes (pending automatic recount). This scenario, however, is probably overly optimistic; unless the school levy could have generated the sort of enthusiasm as Barack Obama, it is at least somewhat unreasonable to expect that there would be no under votes at all in this race. It is also somewhat optimistic for the levy to assume that all under voters would vote for the levy if they had cast ballots.
Scenario Two- Everyone votes, under voters support levy at rate of voters: What if one assumes that everyone votes, but that the under voters support the levy at the same rate as those who already voted? This may be a more reasonable assumption than assuming that every under voter would naturally support the levy. In the Gambier precincts, 91.2% of voters supported the school levy. Had 91.2% of the under voters supported the school levy, the levy would have gotten approximately 220 more yes votes for a total of 7033 yes votes. However, under this assumption, approximately 21 of the under voters (~8.8%) would have voted no, giving the no side a total of 7035 no votes. Under this scenario, the levy would have failed by three (!) votes (a tie results in a loss). Obviously, the levy would have gone to recount under this scenario; the only thing that would be sure under this scenario is a lengthy legal battle.
Scenario Three- Under voting falls to norm outside Gambier, under voters support levy at rate of voters: The assumption that everyone votes is also somewhat optimistic; after all outside of the Gambier (and College Township) precincts there was some under voting in this race. If we reduce under voting in this race to the non-Gambier average of 3.2%, this means that ~43 under votes would still have been cast in this race, thus meaning that 198 fewer under votes would have been cast. By allocating these under votes in the same way as the formula in Scenario Two, 6994 total votes (increase of 181) would have been cast for the levy and 7031 votes would have been cast against the levy. As a result, the levy would have needed 38 more yes votes to pass under this scenario; however, as with the previous scenario, this result falls within the 0.5% margin to trigger an automatic recount in a local, county, or municipal election.
Scenario Four- Relaxing the Assumptions of Scenarios Two and Three: While the assumptions in Scenario One were likely too loose, the assumptions in Scenarios Two and Three may be too rigid. (Goldilocks had a similar problem with temperature and pudding!) In Scenario Two, I used the 91.2% support rate among all voters. However, it is likely that most of the under voters were Kenyon students as opposed to year-round Gambier townspeople (who make up a small portion of the Gambier vote). I also suspect that Kenyon-affiliated people may have supported the levy at a slightly higher rate than the year-round Gambier townspeople (although support must have been widespread in the village among all residents for the levy to get 91.2% of the vote). Therefore, I average Scenario 1 and Scenario 2 and say that 95.6% of under voters would support the levy.
Let me also relax the assumption of under voting- what if under voting in Gambier took place at a rate of 1.6% in the school levy election, half the 3.2% average for non-Gambier precincts? After all, the Gambier precincts showed in the presidential race that their voters are quite adept at filling out ballots when they want to make their voices heard. Is this assumption reasonable? Perhaps.
Under the relaxed assumption about under voting, ~220 under voters would be converted into voters. Using the assumption of 95.6% support for the levy, I find that supporters would gain ~210 votes and opponents would gain ~10 votes. As a result, the levy would have received 7023 votes in favor and 7024 against, failing by only two (!) votes (again, tie=loss). Once again, the election would have been decided by a recount.
So did under voting cost Mount Vernon Schools the November 2012 election? The answer to that question is a definitive “maybe.” That all depends on a.) which of the above scenarios one finds most convincing and b.) what one assumes would have happened in a recount.
The only other conclusion that can draw is that, had a lower rate of under voting taken place, the election administrator’s prayer most certainly would not have been answered. Most likely a lengthy recount process would have taken place that may have dragged on for weeks if not months.