After results posted last night, I went on Twitter and posted that image of the legendary Tim Russert during the 2000 Bush vs. Gore election holding his marker board that said “Florida, Florida, Florida," except, in the Mia Love vs. Ben McAdams race, it should say “Provisionals, Provisionals, Provisionals.”
After looking at the tally Thursday evening, the only thing I’d change is I’d put “Provisionals” on the board about 40 more times. It is certain that the roughly 35,000 provisionals outstanding will decide this race.
On Thursday, McAdams added another 129 votes to his slim lead, bringing his margin to 1,002. That’s out of more than 250,000 votes counted so far.
If those provisionals break down the same way the votes counted so far have gone, McAdams' lead won’t hold and Love will win by 426 votes.
But the thing is, we have no idea how many of those provisional ballots will be counted. A 2009 study by the Pew Center on the States looked at one Utah election and found 84 percent were counted. (Thanks, to Bret Wask for pointing that study out).
But this is the first year Utah has had same-day voter registration. And the Salt Lake County Clerk has told me that about 9,000 of the more than 16,000 provisional ballots cast in the county are same-day registrants. So are those people eager to support the medical marijuana initiative? If so, do they break for McAdams?
We don’t know.
Here’s what we do know: There are about 45,000 ballots total remaining to be counted.
Salt Lake County: 18,133 (Including 16,353 provisional ballots).
Utah County: 27,000 (including 17,941 provisional ballots)
We would expect — based on past elections and, actually, this one thus far — that 56 percent of the Salt Lake County votes would be in the 4th District, as would 17 percent of the Utah County ballots. So here is roughly what would be left in the 4th District.
Salt Lake County: 10,154
Utah County: 4,590
Thursday’s Salt Lake County results didn’t move the percentages the candidates have had thus far:
Salt Lake County: Love 45.76% — McAdams 53.76% (A write-in candidate has the remainder)
Utah County: Love 74.40% — McAdams 25.60%
Assuming those percentages stay the same AND that all the provisionals are counted and follow the same percentage, here is how many votes we would expect each candidate to get in each county:
Salt Lake County: Love 4,647 — McAdams 5,459
Utah County: Love 3,415 — McAdams 1,175
That means a gain of 1,428 votes for Love, which would be enough to wipe out McAdams' 1,002-vote margin and give her a 426-vote win.
That would also be within the margin of an automatic recount.
Love has been doing better in the returns coming in since Election Day, however, and could do a little better than that.
Or, the provisional ballots could be a whole new ball game and break down differently than the votes so far.
If we only look at the remaining mail-in votes to be counted, we would expect about 997 in Salt Lake County, which could add another 80 to McAdams lead (again, based on the current trends). Utah County, which is supposed to report its remaining mail-in ballots tomorrow, probably has 1,540, which we would expect to favor Love by a 770-vote edge.
That means we could be going to the provisional ballots with the candidates separated by fewer than 300 votes.