Nevada ‘Blue Shift’ Expected to Keep Senate Democratic
Adam Laxalt's big lead is slowly erodiing.
While the “red mirage” of big Republican leads on Election Night* slowly fading to Democratic wins as more votes got counted didn’t really materialize writ large this cycle, it appears to be happening in the Nevada Senate race, where Republican challenger Adam Laxalt’s 3 percentage point lead over Democratic incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto has all but evaporated.
David Becker, the Executive Director and Founder of the Center for Election Innovation & Research, takes to CBS News to explain, “Why don’t we have a final count of ballots in some states? No state has ever counted all of its ballots on election night.”
The disinformation war is kicking into high gear. Candidates who perceive they are going to lose, aided by election deniers — and even some members of Congress — are falsely claiming that some states (conveniently always ones that align with their political views) are long since finished with counting or raising suspicion about counting delays.
He points to a Tweet by Sen. Marco Rubio asking, “If #Florida can count 7.5 million ballots in 5 hours how can it take days for some states to count less than 2 million?”
These claims are inaccurate, and as importantly, they are potentially dangerous.
These are the facts. No state, in the history of the United States, has counted all of its ballots on “Election Night.” In fact, our Constitution and state laws have always recognized that it takes days or weeks to count all of the ballots.
State laws allow for weeks to officially certify election results, as we check and double-check the counts. This is as it should be. We have never truly “known” who won an election on election night. We only think we know, based on large margins, exit polls, and ballots counted to that point. But we only truly know who won when official results are certified — weeks later.
The problem, frankly, is that this is both true and a distraction. It’s true that no state certifies the vote on Election Night. It’s also true that most states announce the result on Election Night. Even in notoriously close contests like the 2000 Presidential election, where George W. Bush was a mere 537 votes ahead of Al Gore, Florida was able to announce a winner in the wee hours.
Regardless, Becker’s larger point is right:
While some are accusing election officials in states like Arizona and Nevada of “corruption” for diligently verifying and counting legal ballots in the immediate days after an election, we should recognize that literally every state is still counting some ballots.
That mail-in ballots traditionally shift the count in a Democratic direction looks bad from the perspective of those deeply invested in a Republican victory, it’s easily explainable by differences in voter behavior and not a function of corruption.
Many states still have mail ballots they are counting, and every state is still reviewing provisional ballots and counting military ballots. In fact, Ohio still reports over 180,000 mail and provisional ballots still to count, as of Friday morning, which is likely more than all the remaining ballots left to count in Nevada. And all of that counting is transparent, under observation by observers of both parties. Not a single state has certified official results, and the first state to do so won’t certify for several days.
But, again, while Ohio is still counting, they managed to announce the winners on Election Night. They did so in 2004, when the Bush-Kerry margin was razor thin.
We vote in many different ways as Americans. Many of us vote in person, on Election Day or during early voting, and those ballots tend to be among the first counted: they’re loaded into scanners for tabulation as they’re cast. After the polls close, we can get an initial, unofficial count of those ballots almost immediately.
But other types of voting often take longer to count. Provisional ballots need to be verified before processing. We allow for military ballots to be given extra time to arrive after Election Day. And mail and absentee ballots received on or close to Election Day need to be processed as well — all of which takes time, and cannot begin until Election Day or after.
Processing of mail ballots is crucial to election integrity because it entails validating the voter’s identity and eligibility (usually by matching their signatures or identification number), and confirming the voter hasn’t attempted to vote more than once. We want and we need this process to be undertaken diligently before counting those ballots, as every state does, and “election integrity” advocates should be celebrating this process, not attacking it.
Again: a crucial point. Part of the reason counting takes so long is that there has long been a concern—mostly, in recent years at least, on the Republican side—about fraud in voting that doesn’t take place in person. The measures to protect against fraud, naturally, slow down the process.
And, again, all of this is not only predictable but predicted. CNN’s Marshall Cohen published a piece titled “Here’s a breakdown of the shifts we might see as votes are counted in six battleground states” at 8:16 AM Election Day. It was largely accurate but, interestingly, labeled the direction of the likely post-Election Night shift in Nevada “unclear.”
The situation is unclear in Nevada, where there are competitive races for Senate and governor. Like Arizona in 2020, there was a noticeable blue-to-red shift in Nevada years ago – with Trump narrowing the lead over time, but not netting enough votes to overtake Biden.
It’s unclear if this post-election dynamic will repeat this year.
Election officials in the state have not released many details about the vote-counting process, like which types of ballots will be reported first, and which will be reported later. This information is essential to figuring out the possible complexion of the early vote, compared with the later-reporting figures.
Furthermore, this is the first midterm election in Nevada with universal mail-in voting. The state adopted this system in 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and it’s still in place for the 2022 cycle.
Another variable are the ballots postmarked by Election Day that arrive at election offices after the polls close. Some people call these “late-arriving ballots.” In Nevada, they’re still completely legal votes and get counted, as long as they arrive by November 12.
All of this uncertainty – from figuring out which kinds of ballots have been counted already, and how many legal votes will arrive after Election Day – will make it challenging to project winners on Tuesday night.
Regardless, there’s simply no evidence that the shift is nefarious. There are just too many safeguards in place. Oh: and MAGA Republican Joe Lombardo has been announced as the winner of the state’s gubernatorial contest, defeating Democratic incumbent Steve Sisolak. Rather obviously, if Democrats had the capacity and intent to steal the Senatorial election, they would have managed to do so in the governor’s race.
But, again, it just looks bad. We should have uniform voting procedures for national elections, given that the impact of these races—especially given our recent propensity for near-lockstep partisan conformity in Congress—is national, not local. Given that most of our largest states (with the notorious exception of California) and most other countries can sort out winners and losers in near-real time, we’ve got to figure this out.
Further, the reporting on all of this is just atrocious. References to “late arriving ballots,” “ballot drops,” and the like feed suspicions that officials are somehow mysteriously finding new votes to count. And, since they tend to disproportionately go in a single direction (blue in most states but red in some others) it’s going to raise red flags.
You can decry that, expecting voters to be rational. But it’s just not human nature. When we have a rooting interest in an outcome, we’re going to blame the refs.
*For the purposes of this discussion, before noon on the day after the election counts.
Missing from this is how Republicans have been refusing to permit some states, including Pennsylvania, to process mail-in ballots before election day, ensuring that a group of voters who lean blue will be counted later than the in-person votes. It’s like they want the blue shift to occur so they can falsely claim fraud.
Cortez-Masto and Katie Hobbs were looking pretty safe as of last night.
This is good news for Raf Warnock. With control of the Senate already settled, there is not so much incentive for partisan (R) voters to hold their noses and turn out on Dec. 6 for Hershel Walker.
That was TFG’s genius brain fart back in 2020, part of the stop the steal strategy.
As with so much else, a Trump brain fart is now GOP dogma.
I’ve addressed that in previous posts and agree that we should dispense with that nonsense. But most of the states that are slow counters are out west and run by Democrats. California is absurdly slow—which is why we still don’t know the outcome of the House. And Nevada has a Democratic governor, although one who just lost.
Also, the razor-thin margins have a lot to do with it. In the past, there were either fewer razor-thin races or the ones that did pop up didn’t make much of a difference to the balance of power. People seem to think that when they call a race it’s because the votes have all been counted which is not the case. Every call on election night is a projection. It’s just that some states \ races are easier to call. But @charon: is right. The Republicans are taking advantage of this fact in the kind of bad faith that should be disqualifying for an elected official (but sadly isn’t).
In a get the popcorn moment, The NY Post has an article up this AM, claiming that Herschel’s allies are pushing him to campaign with DeSantis, not Trump. Hee, Hee.
Another factor that confuses a lot of the dimbulb sector of the electorate is that they don’t discriminate between projections made by the press and actual announcements by election officials. And frankly, the press doesn’t do a very good job in explaining how they reached the projection.
“The problem, frankly, is that this is both true and a distraction.”
The truth is a… distraction…? Oooooo…kaaaaay…
It only looks bad and is inconvenient to the Punditry class–because even boring election vote counting must morph into a made for TV event to fit the new cycle.
What the talking heads leave out is that local counties don’t have money allocated build an infrastructure to ingest, count, and validate millions of votes before Midnight on election night. If I were a county election official I would accept donations from the news corps to hire more people and buy faster machines. Basically pay or shut up.
California has not normally been this slow. But this cycle saw a huge shift to vote-by-mail, which existing procedures, it seems, find it hard to keep up with. I’m not really sure why that is. I still don’t know the results of some county-wide races here in Santa Clara County. I’m sure its nothing nefarious, it’s just kind of irritating.
They are heavily vote-by-mail states, so things like signature verification are involved. Some, like CO and WA are completely vote-by-mail. While AZ does have physical polling places, most AZ voters are signed up to be mailed mail ballots. (The state recommends that if you have not mailed your ballot by Nov. 1, you should bring it yourself physically to a drop box, the mail here being so slow and unreliable).
NV went fully vote-by-mail for the first time during the COVID pandemic and decided to do fully vote-by-mail again this cycle, so this is something new for them they are learning to do.
As my dear departed dad used to say, “life is all about tradeoffs.”
And that is true with voting systems. Despite the howls of voter suppression and Jim Crow 2.0, the voting systems we have today across the country make it much easier to vote than at any point in our history, and even the laggards in the old machine politics states are finally catching up to what the rest of the country has been doing for a while now.
And this was largely led by innovations in western states like all-mail voting. But these systems that increase the ease of voting come with the downside that counting takes longer.
Back in the bad old days, there was a single day for voting, and if you got sick or had something come up and couldn’t make it to the polls, well, too-bad, so sad, sucks to be you, you didn’t get to vote. There was no option for early voting, and mail voting was tightly restricted to military personnel and others who had to prove they deserved an absentee ballot. The advantage of that system is that it’s possible to quickly get the final results. The number of absentee ballots was both a known quantity and also tiny in numbers. They were usually irrelevant to the result, so the votes counted at the polls could tell us who won the election relatively quickly. The downside is that many people didn’t or couldn’t vote who otherwise would have.
Alternative systems, again pioneered out west, greatly increased enfranchisement, but the downside is that verifying and counting votes takes longer. I think all voting-by-mail states require a postmark by election day which means votes can arrive a few days after the election. The numbers of such votes are significant enough to be relevant in a close election. If you don’t like that, the law could be changed so that ballots must arrive by election day, or the day after, but that would require people to vote early or in person, and for mailed ballots it also depends on how quickly the post office can deliver the ballot. You’d have to have the postal service guarantee delivery of ballots by a certain date and tell people when they must get them in the mail. That’s more friction and a different set of tradeoffs, but certainly doable.
And then there is verification. When a person goes to the polls, they can show their ID, or whatever is in place to verify they are who they are, and they vote. In states with mailed ballots or that use drop boxes, there has to be another way to verify that the voter and not someone else is voting. Colorado and some states use signature verification, which can take some time. And when there is a signature mismatch, the voter is notified given time to “cure” the ballot. Michael Cain probably knows, but IIRC, in Colorado in 2020, there were around 10k ballots that needed curing. Again, that takes time.
Other states have other methods. Maybe there is a better alternative here, but at the end of the day, the system needs to be able to ensure the vote belongs to that voter and not someone else. Again, that’s quick and easy to do with in-person voting, it’s more difficult with systems that don’t require you to go to a specific place to vote. But the benefit of our systems in the west is that more people can vote – and that’s a good thing.
Finally, I am against a federally-mandated election system, unless it adopts what we are doing in Colorado or perhaps Oregon. I certainly don’t trust what passes for our Congress to create anything better.
Here, I’ll be blunt: fast counting requires accepting (a) voter suppression, at least by means of inconvenience, and (b) more inaccuracies.
The former comes dangerously close (in my mind, at least) to the attitude of “Voting is a privilege,not a right.” That is, if you can’t put up with the inconvenience of traditional voting arrangements — get to the proper polling place, stand in line, inclement weather or not — then you just don’t get to vote. I live in a vote by mail state. That was adopted because the inconveniences, amplified by explosive population growth, were simply too much.
As for inaccuracies, consider how many people accepted the fast-to-count switch-and-lever machines for decades. No meaningful recount: “Yep, the counter still says ‘759’.” Notorious for random undercounting. Almost certainly the least accurate voting method ever used in the US. But damn, the precincts got their counts in within two hours of the polls closing.
I really think you keep exaggerating this point based more on perception than anything else. The reality is that close races have often taken more than election night to proclaim.
And you are misremembering Florida 2000. I distinctly recall going to bed at around 3am without a call and waking up to lack of resolution.
(Indeed, was there ever a call until after all the recounts?).
I would note that the broad point about counting is also true: even called races (called by TV networks, not governments) frequently took place (and take place now) even when more counting os to be done.
To be be even more pedantic: ” most states announce the result on Election Night”
And Nevada has announced theirs starting on election night. They just aren’t finished yet. No state announces official winners. We are conflating “calls” and candidate concessions with official processes.
If CCM was winning by 10 points, they would have called the race by now, even with the extant ballots left to count.
I think we all need to stress the math of this to the public, even if they don’t understand it.
@Steven L. Taylor: Note my asterisk in the opener: I count the next morning as “Election Night.”
We were watching together when the networks erroneously called it for Gore in the early evening and then backed off. I went to bed before you did but distinctly remember waking up to an email from you that Bush was the 43rd President. NPR has the same recollection: It was called for Bush by very early morning.
EDIT: The Atlantic has more detail:
Elections are not a game, regardless of how insistently our press and punditry treat them as such. Elections determine control of our government (and to an extent our lives) for years at a time.
Accuracy matters, while urgency doesn’t. As @Andy notes, newer voting methods increase enfranchisement which improves the accuracy of the people’s representation. Verification techniques that ensure the accuracy of the vote count are an unassailable good.
There’s is no good argument to give in to the base human tendency to root for a team.
@Steven L. Taylor:
AP has a list of FAQs describing how they call races, including their explanation about how they call certain elections the minute the polls close, before there’s been any released counts. “There was only one candidate” is not the reason in many of them.
Pennsylvania is one of the few exceptions. And several Democratic states limit early processing/counting of votes.
Furthermore, the situation in Pennsylvania is more complicated than your comments suggests. The original act that reformed the system to allow extensive mail-voting, passed on a bipartisan basis. It didn’t include changes in counting, however, as legislatures had no idea mail voting would spike due to Covid. Republicans have had proposals to fix this, including things that Democrats don’t like, so they didn’t go anywhere. For example, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a reform bill that would have fixed this, but the Democratic governor vetoed it because the reform bill included a voter ID provision. So the notion that Pennsylvania Republicans purposely don’t allow early counting because of a “blue shift” doesn’t have much, if any, evidence. The problem is plain old politics and the inability to reach a compromise.
Anyway, a full list is here of early processing/counting rules. There are very few states that don’t allow early processing and/or counting.
The laws on timing vary by state.
For example, in AZ ballots must be received by Nov.8. while in NV they must be postmarked by Nov. 8 and received by Nov. 12.
@James Joyner: There was back-and-forth, and confusion to be sure. But at the end of day (or the next one) the race was not called.
I mean, sure, it was called and then retracted, but I am not sure that serves your point.
@Steven L. Taylor: To further clarify, I think you are conflating network calls with official results (recognizing that I know you know the difference).
The point that Becker (and I) are making is that vote counting always goes beyond election night (or the next day). And that there have always been cases in which we did not know the results that night. It is just that they are relatively rare and also because they are often not super consequential.
That the networks f’d up Florida in 2000 kind of makes the point that this overall issue is not new, rather than the other way around.
@James Joyner: How about this: we can both agree that Bush was not declared the next president on that Wednesday and that counting continued for some time after before there was an official result.
Also: recall that in 2000 Florida had to wait on mail-in ballots from service members to even declare a first final count before the partial recount started.
And then called to retract the concession speech, I would note.
@Steven L. Taylor: Oh, for sure. But that was a function of Gore demanding a recount and then a back-and-forth in the courts.
We’ve had lots of elections with recounts after the fact. I continue to believe that elections close enough for recounts are essentially coin flips and that the process inevitably sews doubt and confusion rather than resolving the “true” winner.
@Steven L. Taylor: “The point that Becker (and I) are making”
This may not exactly go to the heart of the discussion here, but the one question in my mind is this:
Is this phrase grammatically correct?
That is to say, when your sentence has a subject, but then you put a secondary subject in parentheses, should the verb take the singular form — because Becker is the subject and “I” is just a parenthetical aside — or does “Becker and I” become a plural subject even though the latter is in parentheses?
(And yes, if there’s anyone out there who wants to out-pedant me, the actual subject of the sentence is “the point.” I’m talking about the clause here…)
It would certainly sound odd to say “the point that Becker (and I) is making,” and I can’t imagine many people writing it that way. But does anyone know if it’s actually correct?
I think “are” is correct.
@wr: I think it would be Becker and me, not Becker and I, wouldn’t it?
@becca: “I think it would be Becker and me, not Becker and I, wouldn’t it?”
No, because they are the subjects of the clause. An easy way to know is to take away the proper noun and just leave the pronoun — you wouldn’t say “the point that me is making.”
IMO, if you understand a sentence on first reading, without having to pause and figure out the meaning, then it’s grammatically correct enough.
@wr: @Kathy: I misread the first time. I would have used a singular verb in this case. Becker “is” making the point independent of Dr Taylor.
I know this puts all your minds at rest. You are welcome, in advance.
I’m gonna jump on James a bit here:
But we don’t. And we won’t. The constitution puts states in charge of elections. Deal with it.
Yes it is. Your solution is? Oh, wait a minute, you’re just whining about this. You don’t have a solution.
People need to grow the F up,
and educate themselves.
Therefor we should bend our electoral procedures to their irrationalities? C’mon James, that is NOT what you want.
@OzarkHillbilly:What I want is for a handful of states to get their act together and figure out how to get votes counted like all the others.
@wr: Here goes with out-pedanting you: The subject and verb of the main clause do agree–“The point… is…” As to whether the relative clause verb is correct probably depends on how the reader interprets the parenthetical–as you note. IF the writer wished to clarify that the parenthetical is non-restrictive, then said writer should move that phrase to a different spot on the string and turn it into separate phrase/clause, but given that a speaker would not be able to make “and I” parenthetical–even with voice inflection–the plural verb should hold because listeners are going to hear a compound subject.
@Just nutha ignint cracker: I should have noted that as the sentence stands, the phrase “and I” is restrictive/essential and needs to be treated as part of the subject “Becker” (or whatever his name is).
@Kathy: “IMO, if you understand a sentence on first reading, without having to pause and figure out the meaning, then it’s grammatically correct enough.”
Well, that’s what I taught my students in the various grammar workshops we had in my composition classes, but I also warned them that when I read for their grade, I work very hard at misunderstanding what they’ve written and am pretty good at it. Still, I occasionally had to give a point or two back on papers because my misunderstanding of what they wrote was beyond the pale.
@becca: “Becker “is” making the point independent of Dr Taylor.”
That’s a good point and you get your credit back [/s], but I still think your view would be clearer if you moved “and I.” And you’d probably need a verb–agree/concur.
@James Joyner: I don’t understand why the delay is an issue.
A few days after the election we find out the results.
No big deal.
@Just nutha ignint cracker:
As a counterpoint, I offer one of Niven’s laws:
“If you’ve nothing to say, say it any way you like. Stylistic innovations, contorted story lines or none, exotic or genderless pronouns, internal inconsistencies, the recipe for preparing your lover as a cannibal banquet: feel free. If what you have to say is important and/or difficult to follow, use the simplest language possible. If the reader doesn’t get it then, let it not be your fault.”
@James Joyner: And I want a magic pony.
“Republicans have had proposals to fix this, including things that Democrats don’t like, so they didn’t go anywhere. For example, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a reform bill that would have fixed this, but the Democratic governor vetoed it because the reform bill included a voter ID provision. So the notion that Pennsylvania Republicans purposely don’t allow early counting because of a “blue shift” doesn’t have much, if any, evidence. The problem is plain old politics and the inability to reach a compromise.”
It’s interesting that you view Pennsylvania Republicans asking for the poison pill of Voter ID (which a prior Republican State House Majority Leader stated was intended to help Republicans win statewide elections) in exchange for the politically neutral action of fixing this issue, one which was requested by the bipartisan association of all county commissioners, as the “inability to reach a compromise”.
You seem to not understand the difference between a real compromise, and hostage taking.
BREAKING: Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto wins re-election to the U.S. Senate in Nevada, NBC News projects.
Dems retain control of the Senate.
@Tony W: And maybe the solution James needs is no reporting at all until it is official. Then there is no shift for the simpletons to inflate into a conspiracy.
@Just nutha ignint cracker: Thank you. Lovely answer!
You started out making a specific claim about GoP motivations, and now you’re making a different claim using a decade-old article that quotes a guy who is not even in office anymore. You’ve yet to present any evidence that Republicans want to slow down ballot processing for the specific purpose of being able to falsely claim voter fraud, which is what you suggested.
Can you define – exactly – the difference between real compromise and “hostage taking?” In my view, it’s entirely subjective and part and parcel of normal politics.
From further reading, it seems the problem in Pennsylvania is a lack of GoP consensus about goals and details, which is definitely a problem with the GoP (a common one), but I’ve found nothing to suggest your theory has any merit.