Prepping for the Prelim

I enjoyed Mike’s post about How to Vote in Worcester in this month’s Happiness Pony.

If you don’t have familiarity with how our elections work, or want an intelligent discussion about how to be happy in the voting booth, I recommend reading it.

I, however, am rarely happy in the voting booth.

What follows is my slightly-irrational philosophy of voting in Worcester elections with a dash of the statistics only I really care about.

Preliminary Elections

Worcester has had four preliminary elections for at-large council seats since our modified charter began in 1987.

Whenever we have more than twice as many candidates as we have open seats, there’s a preliminary election.

Does a preliminary election mean a greater turnout?

Not really.

In 1993, Worcester had its first preliminary.  At that preliminary election, 13,558 ballots were cast (21.9% of the registered voters); in the general election in November, 33,128 ballots were cast (53.4% of registered voters).  While that seems high, there were actually more votes cast in the previous municipal election (35,418) — though there were also more registered voters that year.

In 1995, Worcester again had a preliminary election.  In the prelim, 9,448 ballots were cast (14% of registered voters).  In the general, 24,385 ballots were cast (36% of registered voters).

In 2007’s prelim, 14,274 ballots were cast (nearly 15% of registered voters); in the general, 21,516 ballots were cast (22% of registered voters).

In 2011’s prelim, only 8,316 ballots were cast (8.7% of registered voters); in the general, 19,244 ballots were cast (20% of registered voters).

While 2007 and 2011 had higher turnouts than surrounding years, they were still pretty abysmal.

Ranking in Preliminary Election

Nick K’s Sunday column [$] has a good description of some of the upsets that have occurred between the preliminary and general elections.

In 1993, all six top vote-getters in the preliminary won seats in the general election.  However, the rankings were not the same. John Anderson, who had received nearly 1,000 votes more than Ray Mariano in the preliminary, received roughly 1,000 fewer than Mariano in the general.

In 1995, there were a couple moves of interest.  John Buell went from a rank of 7th in the preliminary to 4th in the general; Robert Hennigan dropped from 6th to 9th.

In 2007, a year of great change (and the only year to see more candidates in a preliminary than the current year) saw Dennis Irish and Grace Ross making the top 6 in the preliminary only to drop to 7th and 8th, respectively.  Incumbent Mike Perotto dropped from 8th to 11th; but (most interestingly of all) Joe Petty rose from 9th to 5th.

My philosophy of preliminary election voting

The preliminary will whittle down 16 candidates to 12.

We have never, ever seen an incumbent knocked off in a preliminary election, and I don’t think this year will be an exception.

However, we do tend to see slightly more turnover when there is at least one open seat and/or when there is a preliminary election.

I tend to vote for six non-incumbents I think will make for an interesting election (and who I would probably want to vote for in the general election).

Any incumbents I like will make the final cut, but my vote could make a difference for a challenger.

After the preliminary, candidates may make much of their (or a particular opponent’s) relative ranking.  If there’s one thing the past two preliminary elections have shown us, it’s that it’s important to make it to the final 12, and to keep campaigning — a strong (or weak) preliminary showing does not necessarily bode well (or ill) for the general election.

If you’re not sure who to vote for, we’ve posted a list of candidates, including a link to their web presence(s) and T&G interviews.

Bullet Voting
If Worcester had a proponent of bullet voting, it would be me.

In most at-large general elections, I’m faced with the following choices: 1-2 candidates I’m passionate about, 6-7 candidates I refuse to vote for, and a few candidates I’m ambivalent about.

How should I vote?

I will part company with what Mike and Brendan said on this week’s 508.

I will definitely vote for those candidates I’m passionate about.

That leaves me with 4-5 votes.

Should I vote for those I’m on the fence about?

I try to gauge how well those so-so candidates will do compared to the great candidates.

If they’ll get fewer votes, I’ll throw them a vote.

If they’re stronger candidates, I won’t (for fear that they’ll bump my favorite candidates).

But I rarely bubble in six candidates on my ballot.

I’m not alone in bullet voting.

In 1987, there were 4.66 votes cast per ballot (for at-large council candidates).

There were always more than 4 votes per ballot until 2001, when only 3.8 votes were cast per ballot.

In the past three elections, the number of votes cast per ballot has been in the high 3s/low 4s.

That means that every voter is even more precious; at least half are bullet-voting (leaving at least one blank unfilled).

It’s not enough to be one candidate out of six for a voter; it’s being one candidate out of three or four.

Worcester has not traditionally seen candidates organizing into blocs (except if you count a “default incumbent” bloc). After the preliminary, it would be interesting (and exciting!) to see a group of 4-6 candidates come together to try to move voters away from bullet voting and towards a slate of candidates.

It would perhaps be natural for a mayoral candidate to organize a slate based on certain common goals for the city. As far as I can tell, Joe Petty would not do this, and Michael Gaffney wouldn’t have enough like-minded candidates, be they incumbent or challenger.

But whatever criteria you use to choose candidates, please vote tomorrow!

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