hearts and minds

April 12, 2007

Cedarburg School Board Election Post Mortem

Filed under: Education,Media criticism,Politics & elections — Hearts & Minds @ 2:10 pm

“You may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all the time.” – Abraham Lincoln

Three incumbents ran as a bloc for three positions on the Cedarburg School Board in the election. Their campaign stance was to re-elect all three, and keep challenger Dan Carr off the school board. Each voter had the opportunity to “vote for not more than three”, but no more than one vote could be cast for any one candidate. With this election rule, those who wanted Carr on the School Board voted directly against that intent if they cast more than one vote. But it’s safe to assume that all supporters of the three incumbents cast three votes each.

[Note: Limited information was available when this article was researched and posted. Very recent information makes the convoluted analysis done here unnecessary. See comment #4 at the end of this article to get the simple, concise facts in the matter. But there are important conclusions and analyses in the latter part of this essay which are not repeated in comment #4.]

If you make the extremely unlikely assumption that EVERYONE who voted for Carr cast one vote for Carr alone, and cast no other votes (while, of course, all other voters cast three votes each for the bloc of incumbents) then Dan Carr received votes from 44 percent of all voters. (The news reports all say that Dan Carr received only 21 percent.)

Very few people who persist in voting cast just one vote when they are entitled to three. Let’s assume that only HALF of ALL the 1939 people who voted for Mr. Carr cast three votes in this race.

We can assume that those Carr voters distributed their other two votes among the three incumbents and the 89 write-ins. Each incumbent then picked up 617 votes from people who voted for Dan Carr. (In other words, if half the people voting for Mr. Carr cast three votes instead of just one, and after subtracting the 89 write-in votes, then the 1850 votes those Carr voters cast, divided between the 3 incumbents, gives 617 votes to each.)

Simple arithmetic shows that there could then have been no more than 1870 votes cast for each of the bloc of three incumbents by people who DID NOT want Dan on the Board. This assumption means that 51 percent of all voters wanted Dan to have a seat on the Board. (The news reports all say that Dan Carr received only 21 percent.) 51 percent voter approval of Dan results from making the assumption that ONLY HALF of the people who voted for Dan Carr to be on the Board also cast two other votes, and that Carr voters cast ALL the write-in votes. Ask your local high school student to use the actual vote tallies and check the math.

For a final example, consider if ALL of the 1939 citizens who voted for Dan voted for three people on the ballot. In that case, Carr voters also cast 3878 votes for other candidates. People who voted for Mr. Carr would have contributed more than half of the vote totals of each of the three incumbents. The three incumbents would thus have received less than 1230 votes from people who did NOT vote for Carr, in order to get the actual totals they received that won them re-election.

1230 votes cast AGAINST Carr (and for the bloc of three incumbents). 1939 votes cast FOR Dan Carr. That represents a 61 percent voter approval for Carr to have a seat on the School Board, with only 39 percent of voters wanting all three incumbents returned to the Board! (The news reports all say that Dan Carr received only 21 percent.) And even with that kind of overwhelming approval, with these actual reported vote totals, Carr would still lose his bid for a seat on the Board… with this quirky rule.

With any realistic assumption, it’s likely that a MAJORITY of the voters in the School Board election voted in favor of Dan Carr taking a seat on the School Board, and only a minority preferred that he not be seated on the Board. (Yet, the news reports all say that Dan Carr received only 21 percent.)

Sour grapes and twisted logic? Not hardly. The strategy used by the bloc of three incumbents employed precisely this analysis, so the media can, and certainly should, shine a light on it. The incumbent School Board and their allies were obviously “unfair”, but that’s politics, and it’s perfectly legal. The math and the rule made the strategy of the bloc of three incumbents inevitable and all but insurmountable in the election.

With our strange election rule, it would have required a massive landslide for Dan to win a seat by just one vote. He didn’t get that massive landslide. As a result, the people of the Cedarburg School District still have a “unitary executive”, comprised entirely of men (but no women) with business experience alone (but none with any professional credentials or experience in the field of education), setting school policy and making decisions. And no alternative perspective whatsoever is anywhere on the current Board or Administration of this very troubled Cedarburg School District, to examine or question their unwise agenda and blundering policy decisions.

I have used actual reported election tallies in the preceding analysis. That makes it more difficult to follow the numbers. To facilitate your understanding of the basic principle involved, consider this very simple example:

Say five people voted in the school board election.
Say three people voted for Dan, and two people voted for all 3 incumbents.
That means that 60% of voters wanted Dan to be on the school board, and 40% did not.
Say all 3 who voted for Dan cast three votes, and no write-ins were cast.
Say the second and third votes cast by Carr voters were evenly divided among the other three candidates.
The “official results” would report that Dan came in dead last, with “only 20 percent of the vote.”

Here’s another example of how the math worked for the incumbent slate:

Say eight people voted in the school board election.
Say 6 people voted for Dan, and only two voted for the 3 incumbents.
Say all 6 who voted for Dan cast 3 votes, and no write-in votes were cast.
Say the second and third votes cast by Carr voters were evenly divided among the other three candidates.
Despite 75% of voters wanting Carr to be on the Board, and only 25% not wanting him on the Board, the official results would have it a four way tie, with Dan getting 25 percent of the “official” vote tally.

This problem could be prevented in the future by an election rule (already in use elsewhere) that gives each qualified voter as many votes as there are vacancies for an office, allowing the voter to assign all votes to any candidate or combination of candidates. With 3 vacancies, in other words, a voter could cast three votes for one candidate, or one vote for each of three candidates, or any combination. With that system, a voter is, of course, even permitted to make the extremely unlikely, unwise choice of casting only one vote. But, of course, nobody would do that, because nobody wants to get only one vote while other voters are happily getting three.

However, in this school board election, voters who supported the bloc of incumbents got three votes, while voters who wanted a change, and wanted Dan Carr on the school board, got only one vote (unless they made the BIG, but understandable, mistake of casting all three votes, two of which did nothing but help defeat their own preference that Dan Carr be seated on the Board.)

I suspect that whether you are in favor of this election reform depends strictly on whether you are for the Lone Ranger or you are for the Three Musketeers. Or just maybe, it depends on whether you believe in fair play on a level field.



  1. Before I officially categorize your analysis in the “sour grapes and twisted logic” file, I am wondering if you have very basic information at the ready that would very easily either completely validate or debunk your methodology. Based in the districts that fall into the Cedarburg School District, how many votes were cast in the State Supreme Court Justice race? Without question, nearly every voter would have cast a lone vote in that two-horse race.

    This would provide anyone with any basic knowledge of math the most impartial of starting points of which to begin research and then compare to the very uni-directional conclusion you have drawn.

    Your assumptions have deduced that 3,159 voted in this election. And the actual number is. . . .?

    Comment by Chris S — April 17, 2007 @ 7:21 pm | Reply

  2. (A response to Chris S follows)

    I don’t know the actual number of people who voted in the Cedarburg School Board race, or even how many people voted in the Cedarburg School District. (Those are not necessarily the same, of course.) And neither did the County Clerk’s office know those numbers. They only had a breakdown by voting places. And they did not have totals of the number of people who actually cast votes in the School Board race, either overall, or by voting place.

    Just this evening I gave the raw data I used to a friend, and had not the time or technology to make a copy first. I’ll be getting a copy back from him soon. But meanwhile, you can do your own number crunching using the vote totals I got from the County Clerk’s office. I assume they will give you the same numbers they gave me.

    Be careful. Some of the voting-place totals include wards which are not in the school district. That makes a complete analysis difficult. And you need to make some assumptions in order to deduce anything, with the numbers they provided. I tried to make reasonable assumptions that did not favor Carr.

    Understand, please, that depending on the assumptions one makes, with the numbers provided by the Clerk’s office, the percentage of voters who voted for Dan Carr to be seated on the Board is somewhere between the low 40’s and the low 60’s, as I indicated in my article. I would need more precise data than the County provided to be able to narrow that approximation further, although I concluded it was likely that a majority of people who voted in the school Board race voted for Carr to have a seat on the Board. I am all but certain that the percentage is between 45 and 55 percent, and if I had to guess at a single number, I would revise downward from “over 50 percent” to “over 47 percent”, the percentage of people voting in the School Board race who voted for Dan to be seated on the Board.

    There was an average of less than three votes cast in the school board race for every voter who turned in a ballot in the wards for which that information was available. That could be due to voters voting for one but less than three persons. And/or it could be due to people voting in the ward, but not voting in the school board race per se. There is no way the numbers the Clerk gave me would answer that important question. I assumed that everyone who voted in a School District ward, actually voted in the School Board race. That assumption does not favor Carr in my analysis.

    Let me know, Chris, how you manage with the numbers.

    Comment by clydewinter — April 18, 2007 @ 4:04 pm | Reply

  3. I applaud you on your full disclosure of the results of the numbers, which worked against your assumptions and hopes. What the true revelation of this election appears to be is that the “you are either with us, or you are against us” stances from both warring factions isn’t going away anytime soon. Sadly, the last three or four school board races (the recall included) were decided in similar fashion. Hopefully the community will eventually see past all the posturing and recognize that if something isn’t done soon to bring BOTH sides to a NEUTRAL venue for PROACTIVE discussions, nothing is going to change. No more closed-session meetings, no more toe-ing the union line and full disclosure of the results of the various insurance proposals constantly referred to but never shown to the public.

    The recent olive branch Mr. Pendergast extended to Mr. Carr does not erase the mentality he showed in a last-minute fundraising email sent to his supporters that stated “the cost of keeping Dan Carr off the Board is higher than we anticipated”. I don’t recall seeing this on the flyer in my storm door.

    I would say we now have three categories of voters for our next race. The Pro-Board camp, the Pro-Teacher camp and the We’re-Sick-of-the-Noise camp. Perhaps the “Where is Frank Kennedy When We Need Him?” party will emerge next April and restore some respect and normalcy to this circus.

    Comment by Chris S — April 23, 2007 @ 3:46 pm | Reply

  4. The full story of the April 2007 Cedarburg School Board election numbers is about written. I’m pretty close to knowing exactly what percentage of people who voted in the School Board race (between lone challenger Dan Carr, and the unitary bloc of three incumbents) voted to seat Carr on the Board.

    I got some numbers from the Ozaukee County Clerk’s office a few days after the election, but the actual number of people who voted in the election was not available, although the number of votes cast for each candidate was available. Since voters could “vote for no more than three” candidates, I could not use the number of votes cast to determine the number of people who voted. I used the vote tally that was available, and some assumptions I felt were reasonable, to estimate the percentage of voters who wanted Carr to be on the School Board. I said it was somewhere between 44% and 61%, and I said then it was probable that a majority of voters had voted for Carr. I contrasted that with the “21 percent” Carr vote reported by official sources and the media.

    Well, a couple days ago, I finally got some numbers from the office of the County Clerk that purported to include the actual number of people who reside in the School District and who voted in the last election. Using those reported numbers of voters, the calculated percentage of Carr voters came out to be only 41%! Ouch. How could I have been so wrong? Turns out, however, those numbers raised some serious questions in my nit pickin’ mind as to their authenticity. What questions?

    According to the voter tally reported to me a few days ago, voters cast an average of less than two votes per person. That was substantially less than my lowest extreme boundary assumption; (an assumption, by the way, which was well-founded). That voter tally implies that even if one assumes that EVERY Carr voter voted ONLY for Carr, that another five hundred to one thousand voters who voted only for the incumbents also did NOT cast all three votes to which they were entitled. Several glaring anomalies (such as one ward with 235 reported voters, representing 705 potential school board votes, but only producing 33 reported votes) convinced me to question the numbers. I soon doubted that 4749 people voted in Ozaukee County in the Cedarburg School District, and I persisting in making a nuisance of myself, seeking the actual number of people who voted there and in Washington County, and the real vote tallies.

    At my urging, the Clerks office re-checked the number of people residing in the School District who had voted, and it is now likely that the actual number of people who voted in the Cedarburg School Board race in both Ozaukee and Washington counties does not exceed 4379, and that the number of votes cast for Dan Carr is not less than 2010, while the total number of votes cast was around 9666. Those numbers mean that the percentage of residents of the Cedarburg School District who voted in the last election who voted for Dan to be on the School Board was at least 46%. (Those numbers, by the way, also imply that an average of only 2.2 votes were cast per voter in the School Board race, where each voter was permitted to cast three votes.)

    However, the number 4379 includes people who voted in the School District, but did not vote in the School Board race. If 4% of the people who received ballots (that’s only 180 voters) either spoiled their ballot, or did not bother to vote for School Board, or otherwise did not effectively vote in the school board race, then Dan Carr did indeed receive votes from a majority of all voters who cast votes in the School Board race.

    Without inspecting the actual ballots (which are stored for a few years after an election) I cannot guess how many voters who reside in the Cedarburg School District did not cast a vote that counted in the School Board election. But it is certainly possible that, for example, a number of people came out just to vote in the high profile Supreme Court race that had no interest in the School Board race.

    And there remains the mystery of what happened to all of the 89 write-in votes cast in the School Board race, none of which appear in the tally of 9666 reported by the Cedarburg School District, which generates, possesses and reports the Final Canvass Reports.

    There is little doubt in my mind that the majority of people who actually voted in the School Board race, voted for Dan Carr to have a seat on the Board. However, we have a strange election rule that allows each voter three votes, but dictates that the votes be distributed among three different candidates. And the incumbents and their allies framed the race as a contest between them (the Three Musketeers) and Dan Carr (the Lone Ranger). Under those conditions, it would take a landslide for the lone challenger to eke out a seat on the Board. And despite the majority of School Board voters wanting him to be on the Board, Carr still came in last, and was denied a seat by the rule, and by the strategy of the clique.

    We don’t need more of this voting by cliques and blocs, in order to game the voters. If every voter had one vote, or if every voter had three votes that they could assign as they wished, the majority of voters would have had their way, and Dan Carr would be seated today on the Cedarburg School Board.

    Comment by clydewinter — April 26, 2007 @ 1:16 am | Reply

  5. These articles look like good work to me. It appears the (local) press can’t count(again), and thus contribute to to ignorance and ill will. Keep shining your light into dark, scary places no one wants to see.

    Comment by Bill W — May 5, 2007 @ 5:08 pm | Reply

    • I think that the local press can count, but they either cannot or do not think. The press simply and dutifully reported the official “vote totals”, and the percentage of those totals won by each candidate. But they did not realize or report on the underlying systemic problem. It is the state election law itself which makes a mockery of democracy and of proportional representation on local governing boards which are filled by multi-vacancy at-large elections. And the corporate owned mass media is completely mum about that.

      With proportional representation, in (for example) a three vacancy at-large election to a local governing board, if the first choice of one-third or more of those citizens voting is one of the candidates, the election rules should provide that candidate a seat. With the currently existing election rules, the first choice of a clear and absolute majority of all citizens voting can actually be denied a seat on the board, and (adding insult to injury) reported (by election officials and a complacent media) as having come in dead last! That’s not democracy. That’s an outrage.

      Comment by clyde winter — March 31, 2015 @ 10:39 am | Reply

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