Hawaii’s U.S. Senate race, dismissed by most mainland pundits as fait accompli, popped up today in the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard.
Under the headline “Why Linda Lingle Might Just Win,” Barry Casselman explains that the time difference between Hawaii and the mainland could be a big factor in Lingle’s victory. In Casselman’s words:
Hawaii is the most western U.S. state, located in the Pacific Ocean six time zones from the eastern U.S. coast. On November 6, the most contested “battleground” states in the presidential election are located on the east coast, including Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. The major Midwestern contested state, Ohio, is also in the same time zone. If Mitt Romney’s political fortunes continue in their present trend (there is no guarantee, of course, that they will), the outcome of the presidential election might be clear by 9:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. More likely, the outcome will be known by 10:00 p.m. EST. Hawaii is six hours behind Eastern Standard Time. Thus, the result of the U.S. presidential election will likely be known in Hawaii between 3:00 and 4:00 p.m., Hawaiian time. Many Hawaiians will not yet have voted.
And, he writes, Lingle’s campaign has made the case that she’d be a particularly valuable representative if Republicans hold the White House or the U.S. Senate. So a clear, early Mitt Romney win could give Hawaii voters extra motivation to send Lingle to Washington as his ally.
Leaving aside the possibility that Barack Obama could win and that not all Hawaii voters are Hawaiians, the argument is flawed for a few different reasons.
- Daylight savings time ends Nov. 4 on the mainland, and Hawaii does not observe daylight savings. So on election day, Nov. 6, Hawaii will be only five hours behind the East Coast, not six. Even if the presidential winner was known by 9 p.m. EST, that would be 4 p.m. in Hawaii, not 3 p.m.
- Polls close earlier in Hawaii than in many other states. In Ohio, polls are open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. In Florida, it’s from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. In Hawaii, it’s from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. So even if the presidential winner is known at 4 p.m. Hawaii time, that would mean the polls had already been open for nine hours, with only two hours left.
- Most importantly, a large percentage of votes will have been cast before election day. The share of early walk-in and absentee votes has increased every election since 1992, reaching 42.4 percent in the 2010 general election and 49 percent in the 2012 primary election.
Even if only 40 percent of votes are early or absentee and only half of the election-day votes are cast in the nine hours before 4 p.m. (with the other half coming in the two hours after 4 p.m.), that would still mean 70 percent of all votes in Hawaii will have been cast before the presidential race is decided at 9 p.m. EST. It’s more likely that in excess of 80 percent or 90 percent of Hawaii votes will be in before the presidential winner is known, which could be at 10 p.m. EST or later.
So while it’s true that Lingle might just win this thing, time zones won’t be her saving grace. She’ll have to do it with voters who don’t yet know if Romney or Obama is the next president.
— Michael Levine