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The bullets were flying and Castaic stepped forward

Posted: November 14, 2009 1:35 p.m.
Updated: November 15, 2009 4:55 a.m.
When someone wins an election narrowly, probably one should never overanalyze the results. Especially in the Santa Clarita Valley, once a former and future candidate puts on the armor of incumbency, the race that placed them in that rarified place probably carries little meaning.

Thus, the analysis can only keep the former candidate up at night when they realize how near a thing was their victory.

But, unfortunately, I possess three things that keep me from leaving well enough alone: The granular results from the election authority, a laptop with Excel software and an irresistible urge to tear apart the numbers and draw conclusions.

When unpacking the William S. Hart Union High School District board election in this fashion, several interesting things immediately come to light.

When one divides the electorate into the major constituent areas of the city of Santa Clarita ("city"), unincorporated Saugus ("Tesoro"), Castaic, Stevenson Ranch and unincorporated Canyon Country ("Fair Oaks"), newcomer Bob Jensen came first everywhere with the exception of Fair Oaks, where he lost by a mere 11 votes to incumbent Paul Strickland, who came second in every other area.

In the narrow battle for the third slot, Joe Messina racked up nearly 70 percent of his margin of victory in the city proper, besting Suzan Solomon by 172 votes. Solomon had excellent results in the small Stevenson Ranch constituency (one-tenth the size of the city) besting Messina by 117 votes and a whopping five percentage points in the vote distribution. Not a surprising result considering this constituency lies within the Newhall School District where she served ably on the trustee board.

However, Messina neutralized this good showing in the precincts of Castaic, besting Solomon by 110 votes, or nearly three percentage points, in the vote distribution.

On the issue of turnout, some interesting items emerge. Castaic turnout amounted to 30 percent more than mean turnout (a whopping 11.9 percent), while Stevenson Ranch turnout emerged 18 percent higher than the mean. Controlling for the increased turnout potentially attributable to the three status measures, for the first time Castaic produced a measurable increase in participation in a school board race, indicating perhaps some upset over the lack of a promised comprehensive high school in their area.

On to the issue of my favorite topic: Bullet votes. Remember that a bullet vote occurs when a voter turns in a ballot with votes for less than the three-candidate maximum for which one can vote.

Numbers indicate that in the case of the Hart district election, the bullets flew fast and furious.

Based upon the final tally, each of the approximately 15,000 ballots cast in the Hart district election averaged only two votes.

Naturally, the 15,000 ballots cast contained a mixture of ballots with three, two and one place marked.

Without specific results from the election authority on the numbers of one and two place-marked ballots, one must resort to iterative modeling to determine the amount of ballots with three, two and one (the pure bullet) votes.

From my calculations, the most likely scenario indicates an astounding 4,000 ballots contained votes for only one candidate.

Now if casting one vote constituted entirely a random event governed solely by the candidates' general results in the election,

Messina captured 800 of these bullet votes. However, members of Messina's campaign organization, myself and folks in the local
blogosphere actively campaigned for folks to vote for Messina and only Messina, thereby denying Solomon potential votes to overtake and defeat Messina.

Anecdotal evidence indicates that no less than 300 voters confirmed they voted only for Messina for just this purpose, so we add those votes to the 800 total for 1,100 bullet votes for Messina.

Now if these same voters decided to add another vote to their bullet ballot and voted for Solomon in the same proportion the voters cast ballots for the remaining four candidates, Solomon generates an additional 267 votes to beat Messina by a not unprecedented razor thin margin of 17 votes!

When the final financial reports appear they should show that Messina probably spent the largest sum of money per vote for the narrow victory. The numbers indicate the Messina campaign needed absolutely all this effort and, unlike the Strickland and Jensen campaigns, contained absolutely no margin for error.

While a grassroots effort may not have won the day for Messina, everyone who worked on his campaign can know that their efforts were absolutely key to the narrow victory.

Next week we explore the voting patterns on the incorporation measures.

Tim Myers is a Valencia resident. His column reflects his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal. "Myers' Musings" appears Sundays in The Signal.


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