Illegal fliers’ effect on VB mayoral election

sessomsflyer_0001sessomsflyer_0002Except for this story, which I wrote about here, little has been said about the effect of the fliers distributed on Election Day on behalf of now mayor-elect Will Sessoms. As you can see, the fliers showed Sessoms, a Republican, with an image of Obama.  And, in violation of the law, the fliers did not contain any paid for/authorized by disclosures. Of course, who’s going to complain about this? If Meyera Oberndorf did, folks would say it was sour grapes. And who expects Sessoms, the beneficiary, to complain? On top of it all, even if someone complained, guess what the penalty is? $100. We put so little value on campaign shenanigans that this kind of thing goes on every election. So I decided to take a look.

Using the official results from the City of Virginia Beach (pdf), I analyzed the data. I specifically looked at three races – McCain/Obama, Sessoms/Oberndorf Rosemary Wilson/Georgia Allen, candidates for Council – at large. I chose the third race because it was one of the more competitve down-ticket races and because the challenger Allen is black. In all cases, I ignored the other candidates in the races. Here are the summarized results:

Obama 98,885 49.14%
McCain 100,319 49.85%
Other 2,045 1.03%
Oberndorf 67,534 35.38%
Sessoms 74,386 38.97%
Other 48,947 25.65%
Allen 55,491 34.43%
Wilson 70,812 43.93%
Other 34,872 21.63%

I then classified each of the precincts based on the outcomes, ignoring the absentee and the small number of provisional ballots. In doing so, I came up with the following:

  • In 42 of the city’s 94 precincts, the voters chose McCain, Sessoms and Wilson, i.e., the Republican ticket.
  • In 17 precincts, the voters chose Obama, Oberndorf and Allen, i.e., the Democratic ticket.
  • In 12 precincts, the voters chose McCain, Oberndorf and Wilson, i.e., the Status Quo ticket
  • In 10 precincts, the voters chose Obama, Sessoms and Wilson, i.e., the WTH ticket.
  • In 9 precincts, the voters chose Obama, Sessoms and Allen, i.e., the Flier ticket.
  • The remaining four precincts were a mismash of the other possible combinations. And in those four precincts, the vote between the candidates was very close.

One would expect that there would be a drop off in votes cast as you move down ticket. And there was a drop off from the presidential race. But between the mayoral race and the council race, the numbers were very similar (with one exception). For example, the drop off between McCain and Sessoms in 42 precincts where the Republican ticket prevailed was 13,728 votes, while the drop off between McCain and Wilson was 13,136 votes.  (This grouping also provided the exception: the drop off between Obama and Oberndorf was 6,984 votes, while the drop off between Obama and Allen was 12,903.)

In the Flier ticket precincts, as expected, the dropoff between Obama and Oberndorf was greater than that between Obama and Allen to the tune of about 400 votes. And Wilson ran about 1,500 votes behind Sessoms in these precincts.

The real effect of the flier, though, wasn’t in the Flier precincts. Rather, it was in the precincts where the Democratic ticket – including Oberndorf – won. This was the second grouping of precincts that saw mayoral candidate Oberndorf’s vote total dropping off from that of Obama by a larger margin than council candidate Allen’s. Again, the difference was about 400 votes. But while Wilson ran about 3,500 votes behind McCain in these precincts, Sessoms was only 839 votes behind, for a difference of about 2,700 votes.

So my rough calculation is that the illegal fliers were worth at least 5,000 votes to Sessoms. Could there have been another 2,000 votes in there, enough for Oberndorf to have retained her seat? Given that Wilson ran ahead of Sessoms in the precincts where the Republican ticket prevailed, I’d say that is certainly possible. (She also ran ahead of him in the WTH precincts.)

So what’s the bottom line here? First, the penalties for such behavior should be increased. A fine of $100 is a slap on the wrist. As long as the penalty remains so low, there is no incentive to behave, there is no incentive to investigate.

Second, someone should have the guts to stand up to this kind of behavior. Stealing an election through fraud and misrepresentation should not be tolerated.

Finally, the voters have got to be more informed. If our local MSM had spent half as much time on covering the local races as they did on covering the national race, the voters would not have been as susceptible to such shenanigans. But the voters have a responsibility to seek out as much information as the possible. And the candidates have a responsibility to tell the truth.

UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that I wasn’t completely clear on where the fliers were distributed. (I guess that’s what happens when you type stuff at 4am 😦 ) It is my understanding that the fliers were distributed in the precincts where the black vote was concentrated. That would mean the ones I refer to above as the Democratic precincts as well as the ones I refer to as the Flier precincts.

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