What happened in last night’s elections

First up today, a bunch of US states held elections last night. Let’s run through the major outcomes.

First up, let’s look at Kentucky. As I read this, the race is officially too close to call for various media outlets, but it appears that Democrat Andy Beshear has won the race for Governor. Beshear declared victory, while incumbent Republican Matt Bevin so far refuses to concede. With 100% of the votes in, Beshear has a lead of just 5,333 votes. That’s about 0.4% of the total votes in the statewide election. By the way, that’s a GREAT example of why turnout matters. In Kentucky, there is no mandatory recount law, though Bevin does have some avenues open to examine the math in the vote counts, so I would expect him to do that in the coming days.

Next, the legislative election in Virginia was a major win for Democrats. Reading from a CNN article by Eric Bradner:

“In Virginia, Democrats won majorities in both the House and Senate, giving the party full control of the state's government and solidifying what had once been a swing state as a stronghold for the party. Their wins open the door for new gun control laws, an increased minimum wage and other progressive measures that Republicans had previously blocked.”

Virginia now appears to be a solidly blue state. Well, technically, it’s a commonwealth, but still. The last time Virginians voted for a Republican for president was back in 2004, and now Democrats control the Governor’s seat as well as the entire legislature.

There’s also one side note in that Virginia election, which has to do with Juli Briskman. She won her race last night to become a supervisor in the Algonkian District in Loudoun County. You may vaguely remember Briskman because she lost her job in 2017 for flipping the bird to the presidential motorcade on its way to a golf course. That act was caught in a photo that circulated at the time. The job she lost was at a private company, and now she’s working for local government. So, Supervisor Briskman, welcome to public service.

And then there’s Mississippi, where Republicans retained control of the Governorship. The incumbent, Phil Bryant, was term-limited, so Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves faced off against Democrat Jim Hood, who is the Attorney General. Reeves won handily, with more than 52% of the vote. Reading again from CNN:

“The race was in part a referendum on expanding Medicaid: Reeves, an anti-spending conservative, said he would continue the state's rejection of an expansion under Obamacare, while Hood said he would expand Medicaid to cover an additional 100,000 people.”

And I mentioned Louisiana in the outro yesterday. We’re still waiting on some future elections to figure out the governor’s race there, and I will keep you posted when those happen.

Ranked-choice voting passes in New York City

Next up, let’s examine another side note from last night’s election that actually could have major consequences down the line. In New York City, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to change how they vote on future local elections. These include elections for mayor, City Council, and other city stuff.

Okay, so what is it they approved? It’s called ranked-choice voting. It’s fairly simple in concept. Ranked-choice voting allows you to vote for multiple candidates in the order you prefer them. Let’s use some Democratic candidates who have dropped out as possible examples. So let’s say you really want Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to be president, but you’d be OKAY with Beto O’Rourke and you’d also be semi-okay with Seth Moulton. Okay, so on your ballot, you would mark Gillibrand as your number-one pick. Then O’Rourke is number two, and Moulton is number three. In the New York system you could go all the way to five candidates if you want to, or just put one if you like.

When the votes are counted up, obviously, the first choices are what matter most. But what happens next is where it gets cool. Reading from an article by Erin Durkin writing for Politico:

“If no candidate gets a majority of the vote, the last place candidate is eliminated and their votes are parceled out to the voter’s second choice, a computerized process that continues until one candidate has a majority and is declared the winner.
Ranked-choice voting is now in use or approved in 18 other cities around the country, including San Francisco, Minneapolis and Cambridge. The state of Maine also uses it.”

So the implication there is that it’s kind of like a caucus, except you can go far deeper than just first and second choice. It also reflects what I think is a real political problem. For instance, in a presidential election, you might want to support somebody who is not a member of either major party—but you’re worried that you’re locked in to those major parties, because if you vote for the candidate you prefer, outside that two-party system, your second-choice party might not win and you’re stuck with the party you like the LEAST.

In fact, that was an active factor back in the 2000 election, when so-called “Nader Traders” traded their votes, on an honor system, so that people who wanted to vote for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, but were in competitive states, could have somebody else vote for Nader in a state that clearly was going to go for one major party or the other. The idea was to get Nader a share of the popular vote that represented the people who WANTED to vote for him but were afraid to.

That trading system isn’t exactly an awesome idea, but it does point to a real problem: We, as voters, often do have a list of people we’d be okay with voting for, but the current U.S. voting system says, pick one and that’s all you get. That’s part of what locks us into a two-party system. The effect of third-parties tends to be as a spoiler for the dominant parties, so people are afraid to vote for them.

And by the way, the candidate in the Democratic primary most associated with this idea is Andrew Yang. He’s had a policy paper up on ranked-choice voting for many months now. Reading here from a press release emailed by his campaign:

“Yang has long advocated for Ranked Choice Voting, which allows voters to fully state their preferences by ranking their favorite candidates. Voters don’t have to pick “the lesser of two evils.” They can express their opinion on all the candidates on the ballot.”

The press release also said that Yang himself would vote yes on the measure in New York. So that happened, and it passed, and now we will see what the largest ranked-choice voting city in the U.S. does with its new system. We’ve already got this system in action in Maine for federal elections. So if more states and large cities get onboard with this, it really could change how our elections work—and I think that would be a positive change.

There is a video in the show notes by CGP Grey explaining ranked-choice voting, which is also called the Alternative Vote. If you’re curious about this stuff, I strongly recommend checking out that short video. It uses a hypothetical election between animals to explain the system, and the simple math behind it, showing how these effects play out in an election. I also tossed a link in there to an NBC News video which does something similar, but actually goes to Maine to talk to real people who use the system right now.

Gabbard, yet again, confirms she will not run as a third-party candidate

And here’s a quick item relevant to that last story about ranked-choice voting. Let’s talk about Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. For months now, there has been speculation that if she doesn’t win the Democratic nomination, she might run for president as a third-party candidate. Well, for the zillionth time, she has again said no, that is not the plan. In fact, according to a story in The Guardian by Adam Gabbatt, DNC Chair Tom Perez has now personally gotten that promise from Gabbard herself.

This is a key example of why ranked-choice voting would be useful. The only reason Democrats are freaked out by the idea of Gabbard running on some other ticket is that they’re worried she would pull votes from the Democratic nominee, and the margins are small in lots of states, so that could end up handing the election to a Republican. Or the opposite could happen, if she pulled votes from Trump.

But none of this would be a concern if we adopted Ranked Choice Voting, where people could say, hey, I really want Gabbard, but I would ACCEPT whichever candidate—Republican, Democrat, whatever—as a second choice, or third choice, and they wouldn’t have to vote based on FEAR.

The Trump impeachment stuff in three minutes or less

And now, the impeachment news in three minutes or less.

First up, EU ambassador Gordon Sondland did something rather unexpected. Reading from Jonathan Chait writing for New York Magazine’s Intelligencer:

“[Sondland] testified earlier this month that while he knew President Trump was withholding a meeting with Ukraine’s president as leverage for investigations of Trump’s domestic rivals, he did not know military aid to Ukraine was also held up. But then acting ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor testified that Sondland repeatedly told him that both the meeting and the aid were contingent on the investigations.
So this week Sondland returned to the House and “refreshed my recollection,” as he put it.”

Sondland’s memory has improved since his October 17th testimony. In a statement, Sondland wrote that he now remembers a conversation in which he himself confirmed the military aid quid pro quo to Andriy Yermak. Yermak is a senior aide to President Zelensky of Ukraine. This is a substantial reversal, because it confirms the Taylor testimony and refutes previous statements that there was no quid pro quo involving military aid in exchange for an investigation of the Bidens.

Aside from the Sondland revelation, there was some more big news. Reading here from Maanvi Singh writing for The Guardian:

“Lawmakers also released testimony from Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine. It revealed that Volker sent a Ukrainian official the script that Trump wanted the Ukrainian president to read, announcing an investigation into the energy company Burisma (which employed Joe Biden’s son Hunter) and a conspiracy theory about the 2016 election — all via text message.”

Okay, moving on. Today, we expect actual new testimony. Reading from Matthew Lee writing for The Associated Press:

“The State Department’s third-ranking official is expected to tell Congress that political considerations were behind the agency’s refusal to deliver a robust defense of the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.
People familiar with the matter say the highest-ranking career diplomat in the foreign service, David Hale, plans to tell congressional impeachment investigators on Wednesday that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other senior officials determined that defending Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch would hurt the effort to free up U.S. military assistance to Ukraine.”

And next up for testimony is Mick Mulvaney. He’s acting chief of staff to President Trump, and has been invited to testify on Friday. Based on recent trends for White House officials, nobody expects him to appear.

A new poll suggests essentially a national three-way tie in the Democratic primary

Last up today, some new polling. A Monmouth University national poll came up right before I recorded this, and it does not move the needle for any candidates trying to into the November or December DNC debates.

At the same time, it does offer some support for this ongoing media narrative of a three-way race at the top. As always, margin of error first. It is plus or minus 5.3 percent, which is a little high because the sample size is a little low. But anyway, Monmouth is a well-regarded pollster so here we go.

Reading from a summary of the poll in Politico by Zach Montellaro:

“The Democratic primary has no clear leader, a new national poll conducted by Monmouth University shows, with former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen[ator]s Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders locked in a tight race.
In the poll, a full two-thirds of voters back one of the top three candidates. Biden and Warren are each at 23 percent support, while Sanders is at 20 percent. No other candidate is in double-digits, a clear dividing line between the top three candidates and the rest of the field.
South Bend, Ind[iana], Mayor Pete Buttigieg sits at 9 percent, Sen[ator] Kamala Harris has 5 percent and Sen[ator] Cory Booker and Andrew Yang are at 3 percent each. All the other candidates are below that mark.”

The one other key item from this poll had to with electability. As time marches ever-closer to actual voting, voters are taking a closer look at the candidates and trying to sort out whether they feel these people could win in a general election. Reading once more from Politico:

“...Warren and Sanders were both able to close an "electability" gap in the mind of voters between themselves and Biden.
Democratic voters were asked to rate, on a scale of 1-to-10, a candidate's likelihood of defeating President Donald Trump. Biden's average score was 7.3, while Warren's was 7.1 and Sanders was 7.0. Biden's average score slightly decreased since a Monmouth poll asked that question in June, while both Warren and Sanders' score increased.”

So, we have three candidates with pretty similar polling, very similar electability numbers, and 89 days until the Iowa caucus. I’m beginning to think that a three-way split coming out of Iowa is a pretty good bet this year.

Well, that is it for one more episode of the Election Ride Home. I have been your host, Chris Higgins. You can always find me on Twitter @chrishiggins. Well, it’s a quiet week for me in Portland. I haven’t mentioned it the past few days, but we have been fogged in for days. Low visibility, heavy fog, and it’s a little like a Stephen King novel out there. This is not a normal situation for us—this ain’t San Francisco—but somehow the universe has put water in the stagnant air and just kinda left it there. Outside, we are faced with a sort of soul-crushing murky gray nothingness washing over the few remaining leaves on the trees and making every surface slick and gross. Not exactly the fall beauty you hope for. Having said that, wow, it sure is cozy to warm up by the fire and read a book or listen to a nice podcast and DO NOT LOOK OUT THE WINDOWS. Ugh. As always, thanks for listening, and I will talk to y’all tomorrow.