Eric Davis: Congressional mystery could loom

Democrats must gain 23 U.S. House seats in November in order to have a majority in January. Most independent analysts believe there is about a 60 percent probability that control of the House will flip. A Democratic House would conduct vigorous oversight and investigation of Trump Administration officials and policies. It might also consider articles of impeachment against President Trump.
In the Senate, Republicans will hold a 51-to-49 majority once Sen. John McCain’s replacement is seated. The GOP is likely to maintain a small majority. However, a narrowly Democratic Senate is not an impossible outcome. All Democratic incumbents would have to be re-elected, and an additional two seats gained from a group of three states: open Republican seats in Arizona and Tennessee, plus Nevada, where GOP incumbent Dean Heller is vulnerable.
In Vermont, as in most states, election results are available a few hours after the polls close, or in the case of a very close election, some time the following day. Thus, most Americans expect that the control of Congress in 2019 — the most important matter at stake in this year’s midterms — would be known by sometime on Wednesday, Nov. 7. However, that may not be the case, due to unique election laws in three states — California, Louisiana and Washington. We may need to wait weeks after Election Day to know final results from those states.
In Louisiana, there are no primary elections. All candidates for a given office appear on the general election ballot in November. If a candidate receives more than half of the votes cast, she or he is elected. Otherwise, a runoff between the top two finishers is held in early December. In Louisiana’s 2016 open-seat gubernatorial election, which went to a December runoff, almost $50 million was spent, most of it by out-of-state organizations.
This year, all six of Louisiana’s House members — one Democrat and five Republicans — are running for re-election, and all six are favored. So, there are not likely to be any December House runoffs in Louisiana.
California and Washington are another story. In both of those states, more than half of the voters cast their ballots by mail. Unlike all other states, where mailed or absentee ballots must be received by election officials no later than the time the polls close on Election Day, in California and Washington a mail ballot will be counted as long as it is postmarked no later than Election Day and received by election officials no later than the Friday following Election Day.
Many voters in these two states not only vote by mail, but wait until Election Day to put their ballots in the mail. Thus, election officials have millions of mail ballots that must be counted in the days following the election. This count is a slow process, because the signature on the outside envelope of every mail ballot must be compared with the signature on the voter’s record to make sure that the ballot is legitimate, before the inside envelope can be opened and the ballot run through a scanner to be counted.
Because of the large number of mail ballots received after the polls close, Washington officials have 21 days after Election Day to issue certified results. In California, the certification deadline is 31 days after Election Day. In those states’ primaries held earlier this year, there were multiple contests where one candidate appeared to be a primary winner on election night, only to fall behind another candidate once all mail ballots were counted.
Eight to 10 seats in California and Washington could determine control of the House. Close races and long counts in several of these seats could mean the party of the House majority will not be known until after Thanksgiving, or perhaps even early December.
Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.

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