Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

November 13, 2009

2009 Final Cambridge Municipal Election Results

Filed under: 2009 Election — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 11:54 pm

Nov 13 – The Final, Official Count of the Cambridge Municipal Election (including any provisional ballots and overseas absentee ballots) took place on Friday, Nov 13, 2009 at the offices of the Cambridge Election Commission (51 Inman St., 1st Floor Conference Room). Here are the Final Results:

Elected to the City Council – Henrietta Davis, Denise Simmons, Tim Toomey, Craig Kelley, David Maher, Ken Reeves, Sam Seidel, Marjorie Decker, and Leland Cheung (in order of election).

Elected to the School Committee – Nancy Tauber, Richard Harding, Marc McGovern, Fred Fantini, Alice Turkel, and Patty Nolan (in order of election).

Nov 18, 23 update – Joseph Grassi has filed a petition for a recount. He was edged out by Patty Nolan by 18 votes. The candidates will meet with the Election Commission on Mon, Nov 30 at 10:00am and the Recount will commence at the West Cambridge Youth/Community Center (680 Huron Ave.) at 9:00am on Tues, Dec 1.

Note: The order of election shown has been corrected to show that Nancy Tauber was the first candidate to reach the election quota.

Excel spreadsheets of Final Election Counts (Nov 13)
now with Ward, Precinct Info (Nov 17)
now with #2 vote distributions for City Council (Nov 18)
now with #2 vote distributions for School Committee (Nov 24)

Printable PDF of Final Election Counts (Nov 13)
now with Ward, Precinct Info (Nov 17)
now with #2 vote distributions for City Council (Nov 18)
now with #2 vote distributions for School Committee (Nov 24)


  1. Is there any way to know how the transfer votes were distributed by precinct? Or once the initial count takes place do they all just get shuffled into the same pile?

    Comment by Garrett — November 14, 2009 @ 8:55 am

  2. I am waiting to get the ballot data files. As soon as I get the files I can easily produce the ward and precinct information. It will also be available in print at the Election Commission office next week, but there’s no logical reason why anyone should have to wait until then. This is, after all, a public record.

    With a little luck, I should have all the information on Saturday. If it fails to materialize, it will not be for lack of trying. I was unable to be at the Friday meeting of the Election Commission because I was at a lecture on “Voting in Agreeable Societies”. It would be indeed ironic if Cambridge election officials choose to not be agreeable about providing timely public information on their elections. A lot of people look forward to the information I post after each municipal election and I am eager to produce it now, especially on a rainy Saturday. — Robert Winters

    Comment by Robert Winters — November 14, 2009 @ 9:18 am

  3. Why do the numbers of transfer votes change, in a few of cases by quite a few votes, between the Unofficial Results and the Final Official Results? For example, in the Unofficial Results Henrietta has 1856 #1 votes and transfers 50 votes to Sam. In the Final Official Results, she has 1858 #1 votes and transfers 30 votes to Sam. Seeing how much some elections hinge on transfer votes, this could really change the final outcome. And are the ballots run in the same order (within precincts) for both counts?

    Comment by Ann — November 14, 2009 @ 11:18 am

  4. My sense is that this is a byproduct of the method used for surplus transfer, i.e. the Cincinnati Method. With 262 surplus ballots to redistribute to other candidates, if Henrietta Davis received any addition ballots in the Final Count (she received 2 additional ballots) and if either of them came from precincts listed early in the “random precinct draw”, then this could alter the sequence of ballots that are pulled for redistribution. Normally, this only results in a few ballots shifting, but in this case it seems that the result was pronounced. However, as the count proceeds, ballots do tend to flow back to their eventual destination as candidates are successively defeated. Among the three over-quota candidates, there were 603 surplus ballots to redistribute and thus the random element could and did produce some notable swings.

    One other small difference is that the election quota went up from 1595 to 1596. Though this seems like a tiny change, it does mean that the first 8 elected will consume an additional ballot each and this is probably why 9th elected Leland Cheung’s total at the end dropped from 1540 to 1532. This is also in part due to the fact that the last defeated candidate, Eddie Sullivan, didn’t transfer significantly to Leland.

    In contrast to the City Council election, there were no over-quota candidates in the School Committee election and thus a minimal effect on the order in which ballots were counted. The only small deviation had to do with when a candidate was elected during one of the later rounds, but the sequence of ballots doesn’t change in that case except for the possible insertion of a few extra ballots. Indeed, the greatest deviation anywhere during the School Committee count was just 2 ballots from the unofficial to the final election results.

    Comment by Robert Winters — November 14, 2009 @ 12:05 pm

  5. Why are unofficial distributions conducted/ Why not just wait until the official numbers for 1st place votes are counted and then do the official redistribution. Both the unofficial counts seemed to cause confusion to some people even with the caveats. Why can’t people just wait until things are official and then get all the numbers. Candidates don’t take office until sometime in January anyway. Some of us are trying to get I R V ( Instant Runoff Voting) or other forms of Voter Choice implemented around the country and public and unnecessary release of information doesn’t help in these efforts. Looking forward to the release of the Ward/Pct numbers and that chart that C C J shows how many votes each candidates get in each position on the ballot as well as the chart that shows the number of people who got their first/second/third cgoices. thanks for all the work that you do to show us how the data falls to each individual candidate. Proud to have voted in each and every election in Cambridge for the last 50 years. don’t forget to vote in the upcoming Primary and Final Election for U.S. Senate. in the party of your choice.

    Comment by bob richards — November 14, 2009 @ 3:06 pm

  6. Whether or not “unofficial” results should be released is debatable. It is questionable whether municipalities are obligated to wait 10 days for overseas absentee ballots. Marjorie Decker’s lawyer doesn’t seem to think this is required, and I lean toward agreeing with him. (There is no such delay for primaries, by the way.) Any “provisional” ballots could be investigated and either approved or disapproved at the same time that auxiliary ballots are being processed the day after Election Day.

    My preference would be that only #1 vote totals be announced on Election Day and have everything else completed and announced, round by round, the following day after all the auxiliary and provisional ballots are settled. I would do this in a very public place with plenty of room for anyone who is interested to attend. I would also project the round-by-round results on a screen without delay as soon as the vote tabulation is done on the computers. There is no reason whatsoever for the Election Commissioners to hold these results for an hour or so while they contemplate their navels and decide whether or not the public is ready to hear about it.

    If we are all forced to wait 10 days after Election Day to get any kind of results, that would be unfair to the public and incredibly cruel to the candidates. Everyone needs to get some kind of results within a day (this year was an exception because of the write-in campaign), but the whole process should not go more than an extra day or two beyond Election Day.

    Comment by Robert Winters — November 14, 2009 @ 3:42 pm

  7. Hope your rainy Saturday has been consumed with election number crunching!

    I’m curious about the slight increase in voter turnout. Was this due to new voters participating in the process or re-engaged voters? I’m surprised we don’t have more of an Obama boost in Cambridge. I was hoping to see many more re-engaged voters this election cycle.

    I also wonder if the median age of voters declined or stayed the same.


    Comment by Minka — November 14, 2009 @ 5:19 pm

  8. It would be nice if we could continue to reverse the trend:

    I have not yet requested the file of who voted in the 2009 election, but it should be available soon (if not already). I’ll do some comparisons from 2005 to 2007 to 2009 when I have the data.

    Comment by Robert Winters — November 14, 2009 @ 6:52 pm

  9. i am okay with releasing first place vote when they are first counted. i don’t mean to make the candidates suffer at all. they put in a lot of hard work to get elected and i might add that they also have to put up with an awful lot of criticism both good and bad( mostly). thanks again Robert for your work in the elections an as one of the junkies referred to, try not to make us wait to long.

    Comment by bob richards — November 16, 2009 @ 3:49 pm

  10. I have all the ballot data now and I’m starting to crank out some additional information about the elections. I should have the ward and precinct #1 counts posted tonight and maybe some other information. – RW

    Comment by Robert Winters — November 16, 2009 @ 8:54 pm

  11. Get ready for vote count round #2. I saw Joe Grassi collecting signatures to request a recount of votes for the school committee.

    Comment by Alex — November 17, 2009 @ 12:44 pm

  12. An “Obama bounce”? Not even in Cambridge.
    Happily, that ship has sailed, and may it never return.
    Didn’t you see the results on a national scale?
    In Virginia? In Obama’s bulwark of New Jersey?
    Even the congreessional seat in NY may now swing the
    other way, the Conservative Hoffman having now
    Sorry, folks, people have lost their religion with The One.
    Cambridge will learn some day.
    Wait until you see 2010’s results. They’ll make 1994 look
    like an incumbent’s dream.

    Municipal elections generally bore people anyway. At least
    in Cambridge we have more interest than, say, Arlington,
    where the only voters in town elections are old people and
    relatives of the candidates. Though a prop 2.5 override does
    skew that once in a while.

    Comment by Fred Baker — November 17, 2009 @ 3:11 pm

  13. Regarding the possibility of a School Committee recount, this is an option for Joe Grassi and he would be wise to gather the signatures even if he chooses not to pursue it. There is very little likelihood (essentially zero) that a recount would change the results. Virtually all questionable ballots have already been reviewed and essentially all of the ballots scanned on Election Day were accurately scanned and recorded.

    Without any random selection of surplus votes (there were no candidates with surplus, there’s not even the random element to potentially change the outcome. Also, unlike the 2001 election when ballots containing overvotes were not reviewed until the recount, all such ballots this year were already reviewed with the auxiliary ballots.

    Comment by Robert Winters — November 17, 2009 @ 4:50 pm

  14. thanks again robert. good seeing you last nite.

    how about that spreadsheet that shows how many votes each candidate gets for 2nd, 3,rd, 4th……. and so on, with totals. this, i think, shows the actual strength of candidates.

    i do know that if a candidate gets all 2nd votes they will loose.

    i have often wondered if there can be a method of voting where the votes, in priority order, can be weighted and election would be based on the total weighted vote with the highest weigted vote in order would determine the election of candidates until the # to be elected is reached.

    Comment by bob richards — November 18, 2009 @ 11:27 am

  15. how do bullet votes compare year to year in local election. when transferring excess ballots does a bullet vote get skipped and the next vote with additional choices get counted or what.

    Comment by bob richards — November 18, 2009 @ 11:33 am

  16. Good suggestion from Bob Richards to put together a table of how many #1, #2, #3 votes, etc. for each of the candidates for City Council and for School Committee. Perhaps that will be tonight’s exercise. I’d say that it’s really most valuable to focus just on the first few preferences. The fact that Candidate X received a #17 preference vote is not really a measure of approval (though I suppose candidates may choose to see it that way).

    In past elections, I’ve seen the most common number of rankings by Cambridge voters to be 3 (the mode), the median number of rankings about 5, and the mean about 7. This tends to be pretty close to the case regardless of how many candidates are on the ballot. I have not checked this yet for the 2009 ballot data, but I will.

    I’m also looking forward to getting the list of who voted this year so that I can see whether there are any trends toward younger people voting more than in the past. Hope springs eternal.

    Comment by Robert Winters — November 18, 2009 @ 12:34 pm

  17. robert. i recall you had the table referred to previously. i look at the 1st 9 slots. that tells me who people want for their council(?). by the way, i went to Elec. Comm. and they printed out that jane did, in fact, vote at Wd. 6 Pct. 1 in 2007. her record of 50 years is intact as well as the last 12 yrs as well as mine. can you print out the no. of ballots that were bullets by candidate. what a shame that something can’t be done by candidates to reduce this substantially. of course, if that is what a voter wants do do, c’est la vie. but maybe they can be educated that their putting down more than a # 1 can’t hurt their candidate but it might actually help similar candidates to get elected if they vote down their ballots possibly to 9 places. i really would like to pursue this to see is it can educate voters. thanks again and i await further data.

    Comment by bob richards from fowlers computer in Vt. — November 18, 2009 @ 6:06 pm

  18. When I was campaigning, many people told me that they would only vote for one person because that was the strongest way to show support. I explained how the rounds of transfers worked and told them their ballot would be ‘parked’ in the pile for their first choice candidate unless that candidate was eliminated. If there was another choice listed, their ballot would move to a new pile based on their second preference otherwise it was ‘exhausted’. I think I eliminated the misconception when I got a chance to explain the process one-on-one. When ballots were counted by hand, it made the process more understandable for visual learners. It also served as a community building exercise. I strongly believe the Election Commission should have a flash video or some type of animation to explain the process visually.

    Regarding bulleted ballots this election cycle – they ranged from 4.5% of Kelly’s #1 ballots to almost 20% of Toomey’s. Average is about 10% of total ballots cast. I find it interesting that 7.5% of Decker’s 2009 #1 ballots were bulleted. In 2007 5.6% were bulleted and in 2005 4.9% were. Any significance?

    Comment by Minka — November 19, 2009 @ 10:18 am

  19. that is 96, 59, 74 bullets respectively for “09,”07,”05.

    Comment by bob richards from fowlers computer in Vt. — November 19, 2009 @ 4:49 pm

  20. Several other reasons for not bullet voting:

    If your candidate gets a surplus and your ballot gets picked for transfer but is bulleted it doesn’t transfer and instead someone else’s does. If their next vote is for someone you would have rated very low then you missed your chance to get your vote to count for another person who you liked. You had nothing to lose since your first choice won.

    If your candidate resigns or dies then his or her ballots get transferred to the next available choice. If you bulleted you’ve lost your say in the replacement choice. Considering this has occurred twice recently (Michael Sullivan in 2007 and Brian Murphy this year) it is a real possibility.

    I think the Election Commission brochure about PR is very clinical and detailed and doesn’t help many people who are unfamiliar with the system to understand enough about to help them figure out why voting many choices is worth it to them.

    Comment by John W Gintell — November 20, 2009 @ 1:11 pm

  21. can we talk about educating more people in a realistic way to maximize their vote so that the votes will truly reflect the intention of he voter. see you in the city some time. what happened with the potential recount anyway.

    Comment by bob richards — November 20, 2009 @ 5:37 pm

  22. when is the recount for joe grassi.

    Comment by bob richards — November 23, 2009 @ 10:54 am

  23. There is a meeting of the Election Commission today (Nov 23) at 4:00pm with this topic on the agenda. It is my understanding that if the Recount goes forward as expected, it will commence on Monday, November 30.

    In a computerized Cambridge PR election, the most difficult task is the matching of the original paper ballots with the electronic ballot data produced by the scanners that was used in the tabulation. The law requires that the original ballot order be respected to the maximum extent possible. This can make a difference in an election in which any candidates have a surplus of ballots, but this was not the case this year. It can also make a difference in any round of transfers during which any candidates are elected. Fortunately, in this year’s School Committee election it was only during the Alan Steinert transfer that candidates were elected (other than at the very end), so it is really only necessary to ensure that those ballots (originally 1495 of them) are properly sequenced. It is also, in principle, not necessary to review any of the auxiliary ballots scanned after Election Day because they have already been reviewed by the election commissioners for voter intent.

    So, in principle, this recount should consist of four parts. The first part should be the sorting of ballots by #1 votes and identification and reconciliation of any differences between this and the original data. The second part should be the transfers up to the point where Alan Steinert is defeated (a bit more than 500 ballots). The third part should be the matching of the Steinert paper ballots with the original ballot data and correct sequencing of those ballots. The last necessary part would then be the transfer of the Steinert ballots. At the end of that, it will be determined if Patty Nolan is still ahead of Joe Grassi and the outcome will be determined.

    Some of this could be done by editing the ballot data files as necessary (and of course keeping the originals) and doing the count by computer, but this is a decision that would have to be acceptable to the affected candidates.

    I have examined the ballot data and there are relatively few ballots that could possibly have undiscovered errors (such as an apparent missed preference possibly caused by a voter incorrectly filling an oval). Furthermore, the correction of any such errors after visual inspection of the ballots will likely not favor any one candidate, so my estimate is that a recount will likely result in at most a tiny change in the 18 vote difference between Patty Nolan and Joe Grassi (perhaps a couple of votes).

    On the other hand, recounts can have a positive effect in that they can discover problems that can be cured in future elections. For example, in the last recount (2001) there were a number of ballots that appeared to give #1 votes to both Fred Fantini and Joe Grassi but which were discovered to have one of them chosen, then crossed out, then the other one chosen. The scanner, of course, only sees that both ovals are filled in and counts this as an overvote which could not be credited to either candidate. Today, the scanners are programmed to reject all ballots containing overvotes so that the voter can correct the error. If the voter still chooses to cast such a ballot, it will be included with the auxiliary ballots that are visually inspected for voter intent. All such ballots this year have already been inspected, so these should not, in principle, require any additional review.

    Comment by Robert Winters — November 23, 2009 @ 11:44 am

  24. Regarding the delay in sharing public information, I’m having a problem understanding why the election commission is now not more user friendly and open to sharing information fast. The problemmatic people who could not overcome their lust for control of information – and who loved rubbing in the faces of the public that they were in charge and we were not – are now gone. Or are they?

    I’ve always believed strongly that if there is data available, it should be shared right away. Only a sicko bureaucrat withholds public information, especially on elections.

    Comment by Glenn Koocher — November 29, 2009 @ 2:44 pm

  25. In the final analysis, I’d have to say that the people who work in the offices of the Election Commission were very good about releasing the information I wanted once some reasonable voter privacy concerns were addressed.

    My only issue with the officials at the Count is how they handle the flow of information when the election results first are known to them. I’m very familiar with the election tabulation software and the simple truth is that the complete round-by-round results could be publicly displayed immediately with no ill effects. There really is no basis for their delay of sometimes an hour while they fiddle and diddle. The situation is that you have a room full of observers and candidates eager to hear the results while several election officials and City administration people are privately digesting the results and not letting on what they know. This can be very aggravating.

    My ideal setup would be to have a video display connected directly to one of the computers that tabulates the results and have everyone – election officials and spectators alike – all see the results immediately as they become available. If ever there is a glitch, there is nothing wrong with having the public be aware of it. You cannot have too much transparency when it comes to election results.

    Comment by Robert Winters — November 29, 2009 @ 5:52 pm

  26. what’s up with Grassi recount on anyway.

    Comment by bob richards from fowlers computer in Vt. — December 5, 2009 @ 11:57 am

  27. The School Committee Recount is expected to conclude on Saturday afternoon. I just posted a PDF with the latest results on the Cambridge Civic Journal website.

    I’ll visit the Recount this afternoon and post the final results soon after they are known. – RW

    Comment by Robert Winters — December 5, 2009 @ 1:03 pm

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