We’re on the eve of knowing the final vote counts in the 4th District contest between Mia Love and Jim Matheson and, as of now, Matheson’s advantage stands at 2,646 votes.
It’s a close race, sure, but could get even closer when the thousands of outstanding provisional and absentee ballots are counted.
I walked through some of the math in a story just after the election, but based on some new information I’ve received since then, it might be worth going through again.
There are more than 72,000 ballots left to be counted in Salt Lake, Utah, Juab and Sanpete counties. Utah County is the only one that has separated those ballots cast in the 4th District, so for starters I assume the total outstanding ballots breaks down about the same as the percentage of ballots from each county that fall into the district on election day.
For example, 54.08 percent of the Election Day ballots cast in Salt Lake County were in the 4th District. They have 43,699 ballots to count. So:
43,699 x .5408 = 23,633 ballots in Salt Lake County
176 ballots remaining, 90.84 percent on Election Day in the 4th District = 160 ballots
700 ballots remaining, 44.65 percent in the 4th District = 313 ballots
And, as mentioned, Utah County has broken their ballots down by district, so we know they have 4,639 ballots remaining in the district.
(It so happens, that if we use the same formula for Utah County as we used for the others, we would estimate 4,206 uncounted Utah County ballots in the 4th District. So it’s possible we’re low-balling some, but we aren't too far off.)
Focusing on Salt Lake County and the estimated 23,633 uncounted ballots: We could apportion those based on the votes cast early, by-mail and at polling places on Election Day, in which case Matheson would get 52.7 percent to Love’s 44.4 percent and add to his lead, building an insurmountable margin.
A better way would be to look at the exit poll data from the 4th District. The good folks at Brigham Young University did that, and found that, in their sample, Love won 51.4 percent to 47.7 percent. If that exit poll data is accurate and applied to the same estimates we made above, Love would still come up 1,572 votes shy. The BYU guys note, however, that they have a fairly small sample and there could be a large margin of error in how those absentee votes break down.
A third way to apportion those votes, which would be even more favorable to Love, would be to do it based on the actual tally of absentee votes that came in before Election Night.
According to information from Salt Lake County, Love did better in those absentee votes than in the general returns, winning 46.63 percent to Matheson’s 50.98 percent. If the remaining votes in Salt Lake County follow that pattern, it would give Love 11,020 votes and Matheson 12,048, expanding Matheson’s lead to 3,674 votes.
The hard truth is that a lead like that probably doesn’t leave Love enough votes in Utah, Juab and Sanpete counties to erase Matheson’s lead.
Assuming she performs 2.2 percent better in those counties than she did on Election Night and Matheson does 1.7 percent worse (as each did in absentee voting in Salt Lake County) she would beat Matheson by about 72-26 in Utah County, 65-33 in Juab, and 69-29 in Sanpete.
That translates to an advantage of 3,673 votes for Love versus 1,348 for Matheson in those three counties, cutting his current margin of victory in half, but still leaving him with a 1,349-vote win, thanks to the Salt Lake County returns.
In any of the three scenarios, Love wouldn’t be able to overcome Matheson’s advantage.
All of that said, each relies on a bunch of assumptions — the geographic breakdown of the remaining ballots and how we divvy them out, the chief among them — and it is still entirely possible there could be a surprise tomorrow afternoon.
-- Robert Gehrke
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