It is now Election Day around the US, and one ballot question that is attracting national attention is Washington State's Referendum 71.
Voting "yes" on the Referendum would codify in law various protections for same-sex domestic partners, and it is similar to a measure that the citizens of Maine are also voting on today.
We have polling data that is fairly fresh, so let's take this last chance to look at where we might be, and what you should be looking for over the next few days as you attempt to judge how this one is going.
As always, a few words of setup are in order.
Washington State is one of two vote-by-mail states (Oregon is the other). Ballots went out to voters 20 days before Election Day, and any ballot postmarked before midnight, November 3rd will be counted. (In the November 2008 election, 50% of ballots were still in the mail at the close of business on Election Day)
As a result, there will not be a "final" count tonight...and if the race is exceptionally close, it could be weeks before the recount process is complete.
You should also be aware that the lead can change after Election Day, based on how many votes are coming in, and where they're coming from. You can track the statewide results at the Washington Secretary of State's website.
(And if you want to learn more about Washington's unusual ballot system, visit your local library...or my last story.)
This vote is on a Referendum. What that means is that the Legislature initially passed the bill we are considering today, and now a group of citizens, who didn't like what the Legislature did, have gathered sufficient signatures to force a final vote by the People before the bill can become law.
Voting "yes" means the bill granting additional rights to "committed couples" will become law (the law would apply to same-sex couples of any age, or male-female couples if one partner is over the age of 62); voting "no" will prevent the bill from taking effect.
If you support the Legislature's actions, you would have opposed the proponents of the Referendum while they were gathering signatures--but now you would be voting "yes" on Referendum 71. This is more than a bit confusing, and a poll conducted this summer suggested as many as 10% of voters shared that confusion. (Since then, of course, people have been running ads.)
Now, a few words about the poll we'll be discussing. There is no daily tracking poll for us to work with, which means we won't be able to analyze trends over time. Instead, we have a "snapshot in time" with which to work.
This study ("The Washington Poll") is conducted two to five times per election cycle by members of the School of Social Sciences at the University of Washington, and it appears to have been a "neutral" poll over the years.
The poll was conducted over a period of two weeks, from October 14-26th. 724 people were interviewed, and there is a 3.6% margin of error. Because results were collected over a two-week period, we do not know if opinions have been shifting or if respondents have been holding firmly to their positions during the collection period.
All that said, here's what we do know:
First, the Secretary of State projects 51% of Washington's 3.5 million voters will be heard in this election, which is lower than the 85% last year, which is no surprise.
And how that 51% views The Big Question, Yes or No: among all voters, it's 56% yes, 39% no, among likely voters, 57% yes, 38% no, and among those who report they have already voted, it's 55% yes, 45% no. These numbers are all outside the margin of error, suggesting we can have high confidence that "yes" is ahead.
Roughly 5% of both likely voters and all voters report that they might change their minds, and that holds true for those who support and oppose the referendum, suggesting the two groups might well cancel each other out.
Democrats are more likely to support the Referendum than Republicans are likely to oppose it, and centrist voters are leaning slightly in favor (48%-46%, with 7% unsure.)
Roughly 4.8 million of Washington's nearly 6.7 million residents live in Western Washington, and more or less 4¼ million of those are residents of the Puget Sound region.
Puget Sound voters are running 60-35% in favor, all voters in Western Washington are leaning 55%-40% for, and voters in Eastern Washington are leaning slightly against, 46%-49%.
Independents and Republicans are the most likely to be undecided, at 7% and 6%, respectively.
Females are more likely than males to support R-71 (62% yes, 33% no, versus 49% yes, 47% no). Moderates are leaning for it by 57%-36%, and Liberals like it better (87%-11%) than Conservatives dislike it (27%-68%).
All age groups are leaning for R-71, with the ever-reliable voters over 65 supporting the measure by a 52%-42% margin.
A Survey USA poll released October 6th showed the yes/no results were within the margin of error, with 13% undecided. The more recent Washington Poll shows undecideds under 3%, suggesting that the more people think about this, the better they like it.
So that's the story as of this morning: Referendum 71 looks like it might pass, but a lot of the votes will be in the mail, which means the results might be unclear at the end of this evening.
There are very few left to make up their minds, one way or the other, although it is possible that some will be confused as to whether "yes" means "no", and vice versa.
The fact that most of the results are well outside the margin of error suggests that the "yes" supporters should be feeling pretty good about their situation...and in about 12 hours, we'll see if that's going to be true--or not.