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caption: David and Linda Huck wait for election night results while attending a Republican Party election night gathering on Tuesday, November 8, 2022, at the Hyatt in Bellevue.
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David and Linda Huck wait for election night results while attending a Republican Party election night gathering on Tuesday, November 8, 2022, at the Hyatt in Bellevue.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

What we learned from the 2022 midterm elections in Washington state

Most of the elections in Washington state have been called, so now it's time to sit back and take a look at what we've learned from the midterms.

KUOW politics editor Catharine Smith breaks it all down with Morning Edition host Angela King.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Angela King: Catharine, you're in a unique position; you're our elections editor, but you're also relatively new to Washington state. What are your thoughts about the election process here? Did anything stand out to you?

Catharine Smith: Well, first of all, we should probably call it election month instead of election night. Because we have this mail-in voting system, it can take a long time for results from all over the state to come in and to be tabulated, to have all the signatures checked. In our Tik-Tok-ified culture where we want results immediately, that can be really tough to wait for those results to come in. That doesn't mean anything sketchy is happening, doesn't mean there's any shenanigans going on behind the scenes. It's just that the system is slow. And you want it to be slow. You want to make sure the votes are counted properly.

What about any outstanding races or ballot initiatives? I know some either came down to or are still coming down to the wire. Where do things stand?

At the time of this recording in Seattle, we're still watching a ballot initiative for voting reform measures. It looks like ranked choice voting is going to come out on top in that contest. Elsewhere in the state, there's a couple of legislative races that are very, very close. It looks like they may be in recount territory.

And then, this may be a little bit of speculation in Washington's 3rd Congressional District: that race has already been called by the Associated Press. It's not in recount territory, but it is very close. And since there is an election skeptic running in that district [Republican candidate Joe Kent], who knows what could happen. Kent has not conceded. So, we'll just have to see what happens over the next few days. There are still tens of thousands of ballots being counted around the state.

Who actually calls these races? And how is that determined?

At KUOW, we go by the Associated Press, and when the Associated Press calls a race, they've determined that there is a mathematical certainty. That doesn't mean the ballots stop being counted. They all continue to be counted until the last ballot is counted. Then, the Secretary of State's Office will certify those votes. That hasn't happened yet. The Secretary of State is not going to certify anything until early December.

But on, say, election night, Patty Murray, our senator from Washington state, came out way ahead. It was looking like a blowout, and the Associated Press called that race. [The AP determined Murray had won reelection.] That's not a projection. That's not a prediction. They have a team of people who are watching how the ballots are coming in as ballots continue to be counted. So, if you vote late, that doesn't mean your vote doesn't count. It just means that your vote is probably going to be part of a trend that the Associated Press is looking at.

Let's talk about election deniers. How did they do in the elections, here and across the country?

On the whole, election deniers didn't do well in Washington state. This is a heavily Democratic state, but a handful of people ran on election denialism. Nationally, this midterm election appears to be a referendum on election denialism. Candidates who ran on that didn't do very well by and large.

In Washington state, our most prominent election denier was running in the 3rd Congressional District in southwest Washington. That's Republican Joe Kent. The Associated Press called that race last weekend in favor of Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez. It's very, very tight, but Kent hasn't made up the votes he needs to win yet. In Mason County, there was another Republican election skeptic who actually won over the incumbent Democrat. But you know, by and large, election skeptics didn't do great in Washington state.

Earlier, you mentioned the Senate race between incumbent Senator Patty Murray and Tiffany Smiley. A lot of pollsters said that race was going to be much tighter than what it actually turned out to be. In fact, state pollster Stuart Elway talked to us about why the polling was so off.

Stuart Elway: Pollsters in the election have to figure out who the likely voters are. And in Washington state, where we don't register by party, there's nothing to anchor that to. I think that these Republican-affiliated pollsters were overly optimistic.

Angela King: What do you think about that, Catharine?

I mean, it's hard to speculate on something like that. I'm not an expert in polling analysis, but it does look like the polling, especially in the Murray-Smiley Senate race, were way off. As journalists, we're always supposed to take polls with a grain of salt, and this election was no different.

True. Are there any key lessons we should take away from the midterms?

I think patience is key. It takes a long time to count ballots sometimes. And we just need to trust in the system and be patient and understand that you may not get an Instagram story on election night. We did for a few of them this election night, but that's not always going to be the case. And that's perfectly normal. It's frustrating, but that's the way it is.

There was a big "red wave" predicted across the country. That didn't happen. Democrats have a slim majority in the Senate in D.C. Republicans now have a slim majority in the House. So, it was not so much a red wave as it was more of a purple seesaw, the system kind of balancing itself out. Those are the two big lessons from this election in my mind.