State of Maine: State of Maine The perils of prediction

The din of campaigning has been replaced by the joyful noise of the winners and the sobs of the losers. Sadly, the results came well after the deadline for this writing. Commentary will have to wait until next week.

It is safe to say that some expectations were dashed and some victories won against all odds. Now comes the parsing of every race and pronouncements on what it all means. This is a more meaningful exercise now that the election has actually taken place. Before voting day it’s all just so much speculation.

In 2016, very few campaign observers correctly predicted the results. The near-unanimous opinion of the political “experts” was that it could not, would not, happen. Oh, were they wrong.

That has not kept them from jumping in to try to call the mid-term elections. Though results continue to reinforce the fruitlessness of speculation, that does not dampen the enthusiasm. Even in Maine, with a small state population and a lot of first-hand knowledge of both the candidates and the voters, predictions come up short.

Despite the demonstrated lack of precision, prediction remains irresistible to those who follow the daily ins, outs, ups and downs of election politics. Last spring a self-described “right-leaning columnist” in a daily newspaper called the Democratic gubernatorial race for Mark Eves. Admitting he was “going out on a limb,” out he went, guessing Eves would “climb from behind.” He did not, coming in fourth in his primary. Janet Mills was the nominee.

The same pundit picked Lucas St. Clair to win the Democratic primary for the 2nd Congressional District. Wrong again. Of the winner, Jared Golden, this prognosticator said Golden “cannot fight his way out of a primary.” He could and he did, winning over 54 percent of the vote in a 3-way race; St. Clair finished with 45 percent.

In the Republican primary for governor the same columnist’s pick was Mary Mayhew, making that veteran political observer 0 for 3. Mayhew came in a distant third with just under 14 percent of the vote. He ended his column with a challenge: “Anyone wanna bet?” If you had taken him up on it, you would be in the money.

Another purveyor of “bold predictions for 2018” deployed the waffle factor, avoiding outright defeat. He did pick Mark Eves as the winner of the Democratic gubernatorial primary but said “either Mary Mayhew or Shawn Moody will win the Republican nomination for governor.” He was correct on one count (Moody) but not even close on Mayhew.

He had Bruce Poliquin winning re-election for the 2nd Congressional District, Republicans retaining control of the Maine Senate and Democrats holding on in the House. He also predicted a Republican win in the Blaine House contest, regardless of who the candidate was. How much of that came to pass on Tuesday?

Another prediction that fell short was that of mass pandemonium due to the use of Ranked Choice Voting in certain races. Voters would be confused! It would take weeks to determine winners! We would be using two different types of ballot! In fact, voters managed just fine in the primaries, thank you very much, and likely did so again on Tuesday.

RCV reduces or eliminates the much ballyhooed spoiler effect in a race where there are three, four or five contestants. The voters pretty much took it in stride, helped along by educational efforts from the Secretary of State, the League of Women Voters, and candidates in the RCV races.

Speaking of the League of Women Voters, a shout out to them. They produced a concise, straightforward “Voter Guide” with everything a Maine voter needs to know, from registering to vote, sample ballots, absentee ballots, the candidates, the Citizen Initiative and the bond questions. It was everywhere. Local LWV groups organized candidate forums to let voters meet them face to face. It was all scrupulously non-partisan. Lovely.

The one prediction that proved reliable was that of voter turnout. Floods of absentee ballots were requested and returned to the offices of town clerks. Those guardians of the sanctity of the voting process were hard at work in the days leading up to Election Day, and even harder at work on the day itself.

Every detail was checked and double-checked, witnessed and signed off on. In one community ballot clerks sat in front of a mountain of emptied envelopes from absentee ballots, more than a thousand of them, checking them a second time to be sure none of the ballot pages had been left behind. Though poll workers usually work in shifts, the town clerks are there for the duration, putting in fifteen to twenty hours on Election Day.

Finally, it’s over. Our phones have gone silent and the lawn signs are disappearing. Now we will get to match campaigns against performance, to measure the winners against their promises. Let’s hope we have chosen wisely.

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Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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