By Phill Brooks
Missouri voters delivered an unusual collection of eclectic, but also selective election results this November. By a significant majority, Missouri voters elected a conservative Republican, Josh Hawley, to the U.S. Senate. Yet, by an even greater margin, Missourians approved legalizing medical marijuana.
Legalized pot and conservative Republicans don't seem to mix. But the eclectic nature of this election gets better.
While handing conservative Republican Hawley a substantial majority, Missourians also voted to raise the minimum wage—supposedly an anathema for some Republicans.
The auditor's race is another example of voter selectivity. While some pundits attributed Hawley's victory to Republican dominance in Missouri, how do you explain the victory of the Democratic candidate for State Auditor, Nicole Galloway? She won by a margin that nearly equaled Hawley's margin over Democrat Claire McCaskill. It suggests many Republican voters paid attention to news stories raising questions about the Republican candidate's Missouri residency and financial problems.
These eclectic results reflect a pattern by Missouri voters that I've seen for decades. Regularly, I've been impressed as to how Missouri voters pay attention to details and news stories regardless of ideology or party. That's the only way to explain the conflicting results on the three medical marijuana proposals.
Decisively rejected was the proposal giving a private person independent powers over the pot tax. Yet, voters decisively approved a constitutional amendment for pot legalization that would not be diverted to a semi-private organization.
More significant to me was defeat of a competing proposal that had the lowest pot tax of the three issues. But that defeated measure was not a constitutional amendment that easily could be repealed or changed by the legislature without voter approval. Nearly the same number voted on the three marijuana issues, so the difference cannot be attributed to voter fatigue in going down the ballot. Instead, it's only if voters paid attention to the details that you can explain such eclectic voter conclusions on the three marijuana proposals.
For journalists, it's inspiring that voters may have paid attention to our stories. But a glitch on election night harmed our reporting. Missouri's Secretary of State decided to withhold election data from the public until every person who stil was standing in line to vote at the 7pm deadline were able to cast their votes.
That delayed the results for more than two-and-one-half hours because of long lines outside one St. Louis area polling place. There was an unintended consequence from decision. Some major news organizations simply contacted local officials for the results. With 115 election districts to contact, it led to conflicts.
At the same time CNN was reporting Hawley comfortably ahead in the U.S. Senate race, the search engine Bing (citing AP data) showed McCaskill comfortably ahead. It was to avoid similar confusion after the 1986 elections that my colleague Bob Priddy (now retired as Missouri Network's news director), established a journalism partnership with the Secretary of State's office for a centralized system to obtain election returns from local election officials.
Bob told me this year was the first time since the system was established that election-night results from the Secretary of State were suppressed. The resulting Missouri election-night confusion reminded me of the reporting conflicts in the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon election.
That led major news organizations to establish a national organization to coordinate collection of election-return results, similar to the system Bob helped create decades later in Missouri. But the national system was not perfect. You may remember in 2000 when some national news organizations incorrectly called the Bush-Gore race based on projections rather than actual results.
While steps have been taken to correct that problem, it's an example about the unintended consequences in suppressing swift and accurate delivery of results on election night. Of course, national uncertainty about the next president may be more serious than a Missouri U.S. Senate seat.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.
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