Sunday, February 12, 2012

No Conspiracy in Maine

UPDATE (2/17/12): Please see our follow up post on Maine.

There was quite a bit of ex post facto finger pointing going on in the Twitterverse -- FHQ's tiny circle of it anyway -- last night after the Maine Republican caucuses results were released by the state party. There was a lot of handwringing over the -- according to Google Elections -- nearly 17% of precincts that were not reporting results last night. Now, the Maine Republican Party advised those localities holding caucus meetings to hold them between February 4-11. But as FHQ has pointed out, several areas caucused early and others will caucus on either February 18 or March 3. However, only those caucuses that were conducted on or before February 11 were -- and will be -- counted in the final straw poll count. Well, in a close election -- one decided by just 194 votes1 -- having votes not counted in the straw poll from anywhere is a problem.

...on its face anyway.

But that leaves two unanswered questions:
1) Is not counting those caucuses in the final non-binding straw poll really a problem?
2) If so, how big of a problem is it?

Now, as is our custom, FHQ will avoid the normative question of whether caucus votes totals being excluded from the total straw poll vote should be viewed as a problem. That is a question that the Maine Republican Party is best positioned to answer. But the answer is pretty obvious as to why the totals are not being counted. [The problem is that it has not been explained all that adequately by the Maine Republican Party.]

How obvious? For that, let's glance back at the vote totals from the 2008 Maine Republican caucuses. [Here are the relevant localities isolated from the full dataset.] First of all, there is an equivalence issue here as the Maine Republican Party in 2008 reported total towns reporting and not the precincts reporting that Google, the AP and others are using in 2012. From the party's perspective, 95.95% (332 of 346) of all towns reported results in 2008. That denominator -- 346 towns -- is based on the number of towns that had announced caucuses.2 FHQ does not know how much of an issue that is in the grand scheme of things in this case, but it is worth noting.

The towns yet to hold caucuses are in three counties -- Hancock, Kennebec and Washington. With the exception of Washington County -- where snowstorms postponed until February 18 caucuses that were originally scheduled for February 11 -- the sites within Hancock and Kennebec were previously scheduled outside of and after the window designated by the state party for holding caucuses. In other words, if there is a gripe about the certification of these results without certain areas, then the complaint about Washington County should be the loudest.

Still, combined, caucuses in those same areas -- if they had announced caucuses in 2008 -- only accounted for 148 total votes (out of 5431 votes statewide) four years ago.3 That's 2.7% of the total vote in 2008. More importantly, 113 of those 148 votes were in Washington County. Both totals are less than the margin by which Romney edge Paul last night in the straw poll.

Of course, as the Paul campaign pointed out last night, the straw poll is less important to them than the delegate count. Whether Paul is/was able to cobble together enough votes in the remaining precinct caucuses to pull ahead of Romney is not as important -- to the Paul campaign -- as is gobbling up delegate slots to the district/state conventions from not only those straw poll-excluded areas but statewide.

But back to the, uh, main questions: Were the Maine caucuses rigged as some are claiming? No. First of all, the Maine Republican Party did not go out of its way to single out these areas that will hold caucuses over the next two weeks to go later than everywhere else. The localities voluntarily opted for a time outside of that window, knowing that the state party planned to release straw poll numbers on February 11. Secondly, even if it was rigged, the state party could not have picked a collection of areas  less equipped to swing the election. Is it a problem that those areas will go later than the rest of the state? FHQ will leave that question to someone else. The bottom line is that Ron Paul could have won all the votes in those areas and still come up short in the straw poll. Now, having said that, the Paul campaign could certainly focus on dominating those caucuses over the next two weeks and gathering all the available district/state convention delegate slots.

1 Eyeballing it, that looks like a small number, but the reality is that that 194 vote margin was enough to provide Mitt Romney with a fairly comfortable 3.5% victory in an election with 5585 votes cast. That is a level that would not trigger an automatic recount in a general election.

2 One additional point of clarification needed here from the Maine Republican Party is whether towns with "announced" caucuses were states that held them on or before the February 1-3 window in which caucuses were held in 2008. If they were announced but perhaps after February 3, were they "announced" in the eyes of the party in the linked tabulation above? FHQ doesn't know. Whether there were any localities with caucuses after February 3 is also unknown.

3 Adjusting that 148 vote total from 2008 for the modest increase in turnout from 2008 to 2012 would only increase the total number of votes in these areas to 152 in 2012. Admittedly, that's a crude estimate, but it provides a decent baseline for comparison.

Recent Posts:
Race to 1144: Maine Caucuses

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Ramone2 said...

The solution is simple. Since those areas are going to vote anyway, count the votes. Just because the Paul Campaign has said that the delegate total is more important, doesn't mean that what place Ron Paul comes in isn't important also. If you think it's not a problem, if the votes aren't counted because it's a straw poll, it also shouldn't be a problem for you if they are counted. If as you imply, there wouldn't have been enough votes there to swing the election, it shouldn't be a problem, because it's an even playing field with both sides knowing the score. Don't deprive the citizens of about 17% of the precincts in Maine of having their votes count.

Jeff Winchell said...

I really like your website and your research. However, in this case, it hasn't kept up with the rapid changes in political organization and communication not controlled by, for lack of a better word, the media elites.

I will be SHOCKED if Ron Paul doesn't wind up with more straw votes in the Maine caucuses than Romney. Whether the Maine GOP tries to invalidate those votes is a separate matter from voter intent.

Josh Putnam said...

Ramone2 and Jeff,

Thank you both for your comments. In both cases your concerns should be directed at the Maine Republican Party. This site is devoted to placing this race within its proper context given the delegate selection rules state by state. I understand your complaints from a normative perspective, but the simple truth of the matter is that as of now the Maine Republican Party is sticking to the rules it had set in place for the caucuses; namely that the upcoming precinct caucuses will not count toward the straw poll total [whether that is right or wrong].

Given that current reality, the Paul campaign would be better served focusing on getting additional delegates through to the state and district conventions at the remaining precinct caucuses (and it looks as if they are doing just that). And no, that does not preclude the Paul campaign and/or its supporters from organizing ahead the remaining caucuses and trying to make the case that it won the straw poll. I have no idea how far that particular argument would go.