In elections, numbers don’t lie

Prof C Explains
4 min readNov 14, 2006

by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist

Last Tuesday’s election was all about the numbers for my fellow political junkies and me. Votes, dollars and percentages. I think I wore out my Web browser’s refresh button checking the races.

I was surprised to see the television networks call some of the East Coast races entirely on the exit poll data — before any votes had been counted. Can you imagine what it was like to be a loser in those races? You walk into your election night party and are quickly pulled aside by an aide who informs you of your loss. You inquire, “How many votes does my opponent have?” Zero. You just lost to a guy who is in the lead with zero votes. That’s harsh.

The best line of the night was from Pat Lensmeyer. “I hope I get at least a hundred votes. I mean, really, who is going to go all the way through the ballot just to cast a vote for an unopposed tax collector?” By the end of the night, more than 45,000 people went through the effort to show Lensmeyer the confidence they have in her work.

In some races it is clear that a money advantage means a vote advantage. The numbers are still not all in, but it looks like more than $460,000 was spent in the Ed Robb vs. Jim Ritter race. From what I can tell, Robb spent about $290,000, and Ritter spent $170,000. That works out to $19 per Ritter vote and $32 per Robb vote. A candidate who touts his economist credentials should be able to get a better return on investment.

In the U.S. Senate race, a slight cash advantage was too little for Jim Talent to counteract his record as a Bush Buddy. While the final tally is not in, it looks like Claire McCaskill spent $19 million to Talent’s $21 million. Apparently there are electoral economies of scale in the statewide races because that works out to $18 per McCaskill vote and $21 per Talent vote. Or you can look at it as $40 million total spent — about $10 for every registered voter in the state.

A similarly ridiculous amount of money was spent in races all over the state. The race for the 18th Senate District will probably run well more than half a million dollars. It is fascinating to watch and analyze the votes, dollars and percentages, but when you take a step back, one thing is clear: This is no way to run a democracy.

It is ridiculous that a qualification for office includes raising hundreds of thousands of dollars. To expect those who do raise the dollars to…



Prof C Explains

J Scott Christianson: UM Teaching Prof, Technologist & Entrepreneur. Connect with me here: