A judge has turned down Rep. Colleen Hanabusa's (D-Hawaii) request to delay voting in the final two precincts, meaning the race will be decided Friday. This piece has been updated and re-posted, as polls are set to open.
Elections aren't over until they count all of the votes, as losing candidates like to point out. And so it is that Hawaii Democratic Rep. Colleen Hanabusa's bid to unseat incumbent Sen. Brian Schatz is not over, as all of the votes have not yet been counted. In fact, they have not yet all been cast. In two precincts on Hawaii's Big Island, in-person voting was postponed on Saturday because of damage from Tropical Storm Iselle. Those voters still get to make their choice, and with only about 1,600 votes separating Hanabusa from Schatz and perhaps as many as 7,000 votes possible from voters in those two precincts, it's possible that Hanabusa could still retake the lead.
She probably won't.
At some point soon, the Hawaii Office of Elections will send out ballots to people in precincts 4-01 and 4-02, on the eastern edge of the island. There are about 8,200 voters in those two precincts according to registration tallies, largely in 4-01. A source familiar with the vote tally told the Post that about 1,400 absentee ballot votes were turned in before election day, leaving about 6,800 votes outstanding.
This is where the good news for Hanabusa basically ends.
First of all, picking up 1,600 more votes from two precincts is an uphill battle. We tend to see numbers like 1,600 of 6,800 as suggesting that Hanabusa only needs about a quarter of the rest of the vote to win. Which isn't the case, of course. She needs to win by a margin of 4,200 to 2,600 -- or by a 22-percentage-point margin. Hanabusa won a few precincts by that kind of margin, including two on the Big Island. But so did Schatz.
Probably more important is that Hanabusa's largest margin of victory in a precinct was in 2-04, which she won by 489 votes. It would take the vote margin of her four biggest precincts in order to overcome Schatz's lead.
It's also tricky for Hanabusa when you consider where her big leads came from. She did very well in areas around the city of Hilo, but her results were mixed in the area near the two shuttered precincts. We colored a map provided by the office of elections to show how Hanabusa fared. Darker green means more net votes for Hanabusa. Darker orange, more for Schatz.
|Precinct||Votes for Schatz||Votes for Hanabusa|
There's another bit of data that's probably bad news for Hanabusa. Statewide, she won the absentee mail-in vote by 2,700 votes, losing among those who came to the polls on primary day by almost 4,000. (Another 300-plus voted for Schatz by walking their ballot into the precinct before election day.) At first blush, this seemed like good news, since all of the remaining votes would be cast by absentee ballot. But a difference between absentee ballots and day-of votes can also suggest two things.
First, that absentee voters are demographically different than those voting day-of -- more likely to be elderly, for example. If everyone is asked to vote by absentee, that demographic difference evaporates. Second, a shift on Election Day can mean that the race itself changed between the time when absentee voters voted and when people went to the polls. If that's the case, the movement isn't in Hanabusa's direction.
Of course, now that the balloting will be done in-person, that suggests (1) voters could be more friendly to Schatz than if they voted by mail, and (2) turnout is likely to be lower, which gives Hanabusa fewer voters with which to close the gap. (Turnout is generally significantly higher where balloting is done by mail.)
And now the big caveat. It's not at all clear how the storm or the balloting process or the ability of the two candidates to focus on the race will affect any returns. In an interview on Sunday, Schatz noted the trickiness of running a campaign in a disaster area. It's also not clear if the staggering defeat of the governor that appointed Schatz to the Senate will influence voters at all.
The math says Hanabusa's almost certainly going to lose. But elections aren't over until they count all of the votes.