(Editor’s note: This is third in a series of guest columns on the outcome of the 2023 Douglas County school board election. Joy Overbeck’s column on the matter can can be found here, while Meghann Silverthorn’s response on behalf of the Douglas County Republican Party is here.)
The 2023 school board election in Douglas County has become a source of division and anger which has led to the publishing and broadcasting of some very questionable commentary that has been offered without supporting evidence, any actual analysis, and without all the data necessary to draw informed conclusions.
While scribbling out commentary as quickly as possible in the heat of frustration of an electoral loss is tempting and may be therapeutic, it seldom leads to solid analysis. With the Board of Canvass complete, a thorough analysis is now possible. And while the election is well over a month behind us and there is an argument to be made that we should just “move on,” wrong conclusions cannot be allowed to stand lest they become points of reference for future decisions.
Setting the stage
The November ballot included three Douglas County school board races, school board-related tax and debt hikes (5A and 5B), and the statewide tax hike Proposition HH. Conservatives had been warning the school board against trying to raise taxes again since the voters had just rejected the same two initiatives last year.
In addition to these tax hikes, there were two slates of three pro-tax hike candidates running. One progressive slate of candidates was made of Susan Meek (District A, incumbent), Valerie Thompson (District F), and Brad Geiger (District C). The other slate, the “Holly Horn” slate (their campaign manager), was made up of Republican candidates Andy Jones (District A, running again after losing in 2019), Maria Sumnicht (District F, a new arrival from New York), and Jason Page (District C, newly appointed by the board to give the board a unanimous vote in favor of the tax hike).
In addition, David DiCarlo ran in District C as an anti-tax conservative with the endorsement of the Douglas County Republican Party.
In District A, Jones received 47.05% of the votes to Meek’s 52.95% (lost by 5.9%).
In District F, Sumnicht received 44.47% of the vote to Thompson’s 55.53% (lost by 11.1%).
In District C, Republicans Jason Page won 28.94% and David DiCarlo won 23.26% while progressive Brad Geiger won the election with 47.80%. This means that the Republican candidates, combined, won 52.20% in District C.
The accusation has been made by some that because he earned the fewest votes, DiCarlo was a spoiler that prevented Page from otherwise winning. However, this is so ridiculously simplistic that it doesn’t constitute an analysis and reveals an embarrassing lack of political and data analysis experience.
A close look at the data
While an individual’s vote is secret and it is impossible to know how any specific voter voted, the actual ballots are a matter of public record. As such, in the interest of truly analyzing what happened in this election, I requested information from the Douglas County Elections Office regarding how each and every ballot was marked in the 2023 Election.
By analyzing the individual ballots cast, the following facts have been established.
- Of those who voted for the pro-tax Holly slate candidates, only 35.2% voted for 5A—63.6% voted against it.
- Of those who voted for 5A, 63.1% voted for the progressive slate while only 23.5% voted for the Holly slate.
Regarding the candidates:
- Of those who voted for Meek in District A, 57,235 voted for Thomspon in District F but only 54,603 voted for Geiger in District C, indicating 2,632 fewer Meek voters voted for Geiger than Thompson.
- Of those who voted for Jones in District A, 10,791 voted for Thompson in District F but only 5,207 voted for Geiger in District C, indicating 5,584 fewer Jones voters voted for Geiger than Thompson (about 2.1x as many as Meek voters abandoning Geiger).
- Of those who voted for Meek, 17,264 opposed 5A.
- Of those who voted for Jones, 39,965 opposed 5A (about 2.3x as many as Meek voters abandoning 5A).
- In other words, a bit over twice as many Jones voters opposed 5A as Meek voters. And in terms of votes that Geiger lost, a bit over twice as many Jones voters abandoned Geiger as Meek voters.
- The last update on election night showed Geiger 47.98%, Page 28.92%, and DiCarlo with 23.11%. The next update the following afternoon showed Geiger had lost 0.16%, Page had gained 0.03%, and DiCarlo had gained the most with an increase of 0.12%.
- The data indicates that as Geiger was losing ground, DiCarlo was gaining the most ground.
Unsurprisingly, the conservative voters who the Holly slate needed were overwhelmingly opposed to the taxes their slate was supporting. And those who were in favor of the taxes the Holly slate was supporting were overwhelmingly voting for the progressive slate candidates. This reveals the folly—and danger—of a Republican slate of candidates courting conservative votes while simultaneously supporting taxes that their voters oppose and their opponents support.
Multiple data points indicate that the reason that Geiger earned significantly fewer votes than the other two on his progressive slate was because some voters abandoned him to vote for the only anti-tax candidate on the ballot: David DiCarlo.
The fact that Jones and Meek voters abandoned Geiger at roughly the same proportion as their opposition to 5A supports the argument that they were leaving Geiger over the tax issue. This is further confirmed by the fact that as Geiger lost ground between election night and the next afternoon, most of that ground was made up by DiCarlo.
We can conclude that the reason why District C had more votes for Republicans than the other two races is because DiCarlo attracted anti-tax votes that the other Republican candidates didn’t attract.
Had DiCarlo not been in the race, Page would not have attracted those votes just like Jones and Sumnicht didn’t attract those votes. Page, however, also attracted some cross-over votes from Meek and Thompson voters that DiCarlo would not have attracted if Page hadn’t been in the race.
The ballot data suggests that had DiCarlo not been in the race, Geiger would have won with 68,164 votes (54.3%) and Page would still have lost with 57,256 votes (45.7%).
If Page hadn’t been in the race, Geiger would have won with 65,908 votes (52.5%) and DiCarlo would still have lost with 59,512 votes (47.5%).
This means the expected outcome of the races would be:
|DiCarlo without Page
|Page without DiCarlo
Without Page, DiCarlo stood to win the highest number of votes among non-progressive candidates. Even so, it is unlikely it would’ve been enough votes to win.
Douglas County School Board majority to blame
The data shows that there was essentially no possibility that any of the Holly slate could have won this year—with or without DiCarlo’s participation.
Ultimately, it was the Douglas County school board majority that forfeited this election to the progressives. By putting the tax hikes on the ballot, the board set the stage for hundreds of thousands of dollars to flood into the pro-tax campaigns to promote the tax hikes—and, in so doing, drove up turnout for the progressive candidates and doomed the Holly slate and DiCarlo.
In the end, the school board majority sacrificed three board seats in order to raise taxes.
Unfortunately, the president and members of the board, along with Superintendent Erin Kane, the Holly slate, many of their supporters, some columnists, and local “conservative” talk radio hosts all believed their own spin. Allegedly conservative-leaning radio show hosts repeatedly promoted the tax hikes and the candidates who supported them—as if these talking heads could make candidates and tax hikes “conservative” by declaring their support for them. Conservatives were not deceived.
The lessons to be learned here are obvious: Candidates and board members, know your voters. Talk radio, know your listeners. And Republicans, stick to the party platform and your principles and don’t try to raise taxes in a recession when rising property taxes are already scaring people.
Without a tax increase on the ballot, it’s entirely possible that conservative candidates would have been competitive. But once the school board placed the tax hikes on the ballot, the die was cast.
On his way out the door, now former board president Mike Peterson found it appropriate to take shots at the Douglas County Republican Party for losing the election. But the data clearly indicates Peterson had nobody to blame but himself and his fellow board members.
There are already rumblings about another tax hike. If the remaining non-progressive majority acquiesces and again places a tax hike on the ballot, they should be aware that the data strongly suggests they are most likely going to be losing their own seats and forfeiting control of who is hired or retained as superintendent.
Craig Steiner previously served as both chairman and secretary of the Douglas County Republican Party.
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