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Ability to count votes has gotten better — the political rhetoric, much worse

Ability to count votes has gotten better — the political rhetoric, much worse
  (LAT)

When Florida last had a high-profile, disputed election, vote counters confronted a near-hopeless task, staring at punch cards without clear rules to decide how to figure out a voter’s intent.

Both the rules and technology have improved. Although problems clearly remain, the state no longer has hanging chads to worry about.

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The rhetoric and the political climate, however? That's gotten worse.

LONG COUNT MEETS TRUMP’S SHORT FUSE

Unlike the disputed presidential election of 2000, this year’s midterm election has actually been pretty routine.

Every election cycle features a few races that come down to the wire, decided by the final count of absentee or provisional ballots. Haggling over which votes qualify happens all the time.

Nothing this year has compared to the epic Minnesota Senate recount of 2008, in which former Sen. Al Franken prevailed by 312 votes after a final ruling by the Minnesota Supreme Court which didn’t come until late June of 2009. Or the contest in New Hampshire after the 1974 election which ended with a deadlocked Senate ordering a new election in 1975, won by the late Sen. John Durkin.

The Florida recount has highlighted continued big problems — counting machines that overheated, poor ballot design that may have led thousands of voters to inadvertently skip the Senate election. But in sharp contrast to 2000, this time, the public quickly found out who really won the most votes. The hand recount moved quickly Friday morning in Broward County, the main place where Democrats hoped to catch up in the Senate race. By lunchtime, it was clear they weren’t winning.

What’s not normal? The political rhetoric. All week, President Trump has denounced the vote counting in Florida and elsewhere, flinging allegations of fraud with no evidence to back up his charges. Most oddly, he’s leveled his accusations even though in Florida, his party’s candidates, Gov. Rick Scott and Rep. Ron DeSantis, are winning.

As Eli Stokols wrote, Trump’s charges gave a taste of what he threatened to do had he lost in 2016 and what he may yet do in 2020.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given Trump’s rhetoric and the actual election results, Republican voters are much less happy about the election outcome than are Democrats, our USC-LA Times post-election poll showed.

WHY NON-VOTERS DON’T VOTE

The USC-L.A. Times poll also asked non-voters why they didn’t turn out this year. By far the most-cited reason? About half said they didn’t know enough about the candidates to make an informed decision.

Roughly one-third said they were too busy. Only about 1 in 10 cited efforts to suppress the vote as a factor. About 1 in 5 said they simply had lost track of when the election or the registration deadline was.

ORANGE COUNTY GOES BLUE

We’ve chronicled this shift throughout the election season, but it’s still a stunner: Orange County, once the epicenter of Sunbelt conservatism, is on track to send nothing but Democrats to the House.

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Thursday night, as county officials continued their vote tally, Democrat Katie Porter established an insurmountable lead over incumbent Rep. Mimi Walters in the 45th Congressional District, giving Democrats another victory.

Porter’s win marked the fifth Republican-held district in California that Democrats have flipped in this election. Earlier in the week, Rep. Jeff Denham lost his reelection race in the Central Valley. Democrats already had beaten Republican Reps. Dana Rohrabacher in Orange County and Steve Knight in northern Los Angeles County and picked up the open seat in San Diego vacated by Rep. Darrell Issa’s retirement.

A sixth pickup is only a matter of time — Democratic Gil Cisneros leads Republican Young Kim in the 39th District, which straddles the Orange County-L.A. County line. There’s a strong chance Cisneros will be declared the winner after Los Angeles officials report the county’s next updated vote count this evening.

Even Rep. David Valadao, who has repeatedly won in a district that covers a big swath of the Central Valley, is in a much closer race than expected.

TALLYING THE TOTALS

The midterm election had the highest turnout of any non-presidential election in more than a century, just over 49% of eligible voters.

The last time the turnout was that big, a much smaller share of the population was eligible to vote — only men in most states and only whites in much of the country. Given that, one can fairly say this was the largest turnout since the U.S. adopted universal suffrage.

Democrats have flipped at least 36 seats that were held by Republicans. They’ll likely end up with between 38 and 40. In either case, it’s the largest pickup for their party since the post-Watergate election of 1974 and one of the three largest for either party since 1948.

With Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s apparent defeat in Maine, Republicans won’t hold a single congressional seat in all of New England, completing a political transition that parallels the flip of the South from solidly Democratic to mostly Republican.

Democrats won just about 54% of the total vote for Congress and will end up with just about 54% of the seats in the House. Republican gerrymanders continued to hinder Democrats at the state level in some places, including North Carolina, Wisconsin and Texas, but, overall, gerrymandering had significantly less impact in this election.

There’s a good chance that gerrymandering will also have less impact over the next decade than it has since 2010. Neither party seems likely to have as much control over the process of drawing district lines after the 2020 Census as Republicans had after the 2010 count.

BEYOND THE ELECTION, A ROUGH WEEK FOR TRUMP

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It’s hard to have a bad time in Paris, but Trump seemed to. As Noah Bierman wrote, not only did he take criticism for failing to attend a memorial to U.S. soldiers killed in World War I, his weekend visit highlighted his isolation from other Western leaders.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who spent much of last year trying to be friendly to Trump, delivered a speech sharply denouncing nationalism. Trump sat through it sullenly.

Missing the cemetery visit in Paris established a pattern, Stokols wrote. Trump also skipped going to Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day. Aides say he’s been in a dark mood, lashing out at staff, obsessing about the Russia investigation and retreating from traditional presidential duties.

Trump also skipped a visit to the border to visit the troops he sent, ostensibly to guard against illegal immigrants. Defense Secretary James N. Mattis did go, and, as David Cloud wrote, told the service members that their mission is “somewhat to be determined.”

Trump does plan to visit California on Saturday to look at the impact of the wildfires. He’s been sharply critical of the state, blaming the fires on poor forest management even though some of them are nowhere near forests.

Trump also endorsed a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill. The proposal, as Bierman reported, would reduce mandatory sentences and provide relief for thousands of people currently serving long sentences for convictions involving crack cocaine. Former Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions opposed the bill, while Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has pushed it.

The proposal still faces opposition from conservatives in the Senate and a crowded calendar in the lame-duck congressional session.

THE NEW CONGRESS TAKES SHAPE

Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield easily won his race to be House Minority Leader, defeating Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a leader of the GOP right wing, Sarah Wire reported.

If Rep. Nancy Pelosi regains her old job as House speaker, then both parties’ leaders will be from California — that would be the first time in history one state had both leaders.

But as Jennifer Haberkorn reported, Pelosi is still fighting to nail down the votes she needs. A significant number of newly elected Democrats promised voters that they wouldn’t support Pelosi, and a lot of incumbent Democrats believe the party needs a fresh face. On the other hand, Pelosi’s critics don’t have a candidate to oppose her.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff of Burbank is getting ready to regain his chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee. Schiff tells Chris Megerian he wants to restore “comity” after two years of partisan fights. That won't be easy.

And as Wire reported, the newly elected members of Congress are a diverse lot, much more reflective of the mix of the U.S. population.

ONE ELECTION DONE, ANOTHER STARTS

The 2020 presidential election campaign has already begun. Although no big-name Democrats have yet formally declared their intentions to run, more than a dozen have plans in the works. As Evan Halper reported, the clock is already ticking.

With a very large field of candidates expected, experienced campaign aides and proven fundraisers will get snapped up quickly.

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown won his reelection — the only statewide Democrat to win in that important swing state. His victory immediately sparked talk about a presidential bid, and in an interview, he did nothing to discourage such talk.

LOGISTICS

That wraps up this week. We’ll be off next Friday for Thanksgiving. So until next time, keep track of all the developments in national politics and the Trump administration with our Essential Washington blog, at our Politics page and on Twitter @latimespolitics.

Send your comments, suggestions and news tips to politics@latimes.com.

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