Tomorrow, voters decide in Kansas’ Sixth Congressional District who will replace Mike Pompeo, now the Director of the CIA. Republicans picked Ron Estes, Democrats James Thompson, and while the district is overwhelmingly red, Democrats have grown excited by the flurry of Republican activity in the district. While the Republican will almost certainly win tomorrow, how much he wins by will be scrutinized. President Donald Trump carried the district by twenty-seven points, former Representative Pompeo by an even wider margin. Embattled Governor Sam Brownback, on the other hand, only won the district by 6.6% in his 2014 re-election. With a very critical race coming up in Georgia, Republicans won’t want an embarrassing performance, and will be watching the returns carefully. Democrats will too, hoping Estes can make it uncomfortably close.
When watching any election, most folks notice the “percentage of precincts reporting”. It’s a number that has lost much of its usefulness in recent years, as more voters in some states vote before the election than the day of, and depending on the election authority’s choice of reporting, you have the amusing scenario of a county showing “1% reporting” with over half of its vote already counted. Kansas has early voting, but it doesn’t make up the lion’s share of a given race’s turnout. Even without early voting warping the old “precincts in” metric, Kansas highlights the problems with misinterpreting the information.
The number simply displays the share of voting precincts that have reported its votes, not the share of the vote actually in. Precincts can have 1,000 votes in them, or 100, or even zero. Estimating the vote isn’t perfect, but reviewing the history of a district can eliminate most of the guesswork. Kansas’ 4th is dominated by Sedgwick county: it accounted for over two-thirds of the votes in both 2014 and 2016. Precinct-wise, it only accounts for 41% of the district’s total. In the unlikely scenario where only Sedgwick is reporting, less than a third of the statewide precincts could show “in” while more than half the vote actually is. Its very, very likely that Sedgwick will again make up the lion’s share of the vote. As we get a little bit from multiple counties, we can compare to their historical “votes per precinct” and get a rough, but useful, idea of how many votes are actually left to be counted.
Five counties in the district account for over 91% of the vote despite 29% of precincts hailing from elsewhere. We will provide a rough estimate of the vote throughout the night in addition to the traditional “precincts” count method, to give you a better sense of what is actually happening between Estes and Thompson tomorrow night. Sedgwick typically reports rather quickly, and a relatively close showing there, while diluted a bit by the more rural counties, will already set the narrative in motion with a week left in Georgia.