Voters are a discerning bunch. Despite what some pundits would have you believe, they don’t vote as a predictable bloc.
Although there are some basic trends in local elections – city of Spokane voters as a whole are more liberal while those in the rest of the county are generally more conservative – they can shift support depending on the candidate or the issue.
A computerized analysis by The Spokesman-Review of the final vote tallies in the Spokane election bears that out, particularly in some of the close elections that weren’t decided until more than a week after Election Day. Ballots returned on or just before Nov. 5 were enough to hand a victory to Breean Beggs in the Spokane City Council president’s race, but not enough for Ben Stuckart to overcome the early lead Nadine Woodward had in the mayor’s race.
At first glance, the computer generated maps of the margins of victory in those two races are very similar. Woodward and Cindy Wendle – who was running for council president with some of the same backing – did well in north Spokane in general, and particularly well in the northwest precincts along Indian Trail. They also had strong margins in the most southern precincts of the city, a heavy-voting area near the Manito Country Club and neighborhoods in and around Latah Valley.
Stuckart and Beggs had big wins on the South Hill and carried precincts in and near downtown and across the Spokane River. But close races can turn on small shifts.
Beggs’ margins in South Hill precincts continued to grow as the count went on, as a comparison of the Election Night and Final Count maps show. Wendle picked up some “big win” precincts, too, but not as many as Beggs. And while she flipped some of the precincts he was winning on election night, those were light-voting precincts with small margins of victory that couldn’t overcome Beggs’ growing lead.
Comparing the final mayor and council president precinct maps also shows how Woodward won but Wendle lost. The former television news anchor ran stronger in North Spokane, and had more precincts with larger vote margins. Although Stuckart had more precincts with “big wins” than Beggs, he also had more precincts where he lost by small or medium margins.
The map of the Northwest City Council District race, which was the closest of the three council races this year, shows incumbent Karen Stratton ran strong in the same precincts as Beggs and Stuckart, but challenger Andy Rathbun didn’t pick up anywhere near the support in Northwest precincts as Woodward and Wendle, even though he had some of the same backing.
Spokane Valley voters split their votes in the three city council races. Conservative incumbent Arne Woodard carried most of the Valley precincts, some of them by significant margins. Moderate Tim Hattenburg, running on a platform of change, carried some of those same precincts in cinching his victory.
Comparing the map of the third Valley race, won by Brandi Peetz, shows blend of the other two. She won big margins in some of the same precincts as Hattenburg, but carried or ran close in some of the precincts that Woodard won big.
Maps of the statewide ballot measures show that county voters as a whole opposed affirmative action programs and supported reducing vehicle license tab fees.
City voters, as a whole, voted the other way. But the strength of that support or opposition varied widely. There was more opposition to Initiative 976, the car tab measure, and less support for Referendum 88, the affirmative action measure, in many city precincts. While most precincts outside the Spokane city limits voted for I-976, they voted even more heavily against Ref 88.
About half the voters in the city of Spokane, and slightly less than that countywide, voted in the Nov. 5 election. But turnout varied widely across the county and because precincts can hold as few as 10 voters or more than 1,000, we also produced a map to show the untapped electorate that candidates and campaigns failed to mobilize. The map of “uncast” votes shows where large numbers of ballots in the all-mail election weren’t marked and returned – and probably went out with the trash sometime before or after election day.
Whether the losing side in a close race could have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat by picking up a handful of those votes in every precinct is something they’ll never know.
To make the maps, the newspaper analyzed the precinct vote totals from the Spokane County Elections office, calculating margins for candidates or ballot measures in each race, then linked them to Geographic Information System files in the ESRI ArcGIS software system.
The resulting maps from the software were prepared for the pages of the newspaper and the website by graphic artist Molly Quinn.
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