At every election-night party I've ever been to, from city council events in someone's living room to giant parties in hotels for US presidential races, there comes that magic moment, the drop moment, when people who really care about the race (campaign managers, eager volunteers, political nerds) gather around a few laptops and smart phones, frantically hitting the refresh button.
That's the moment when they can watch the votes pile in, district by district, and see in real time what voters—those mysterious, unpredictable deep-sea fish—are thinking.
Last night, at the election party for Judge Steve Gonzalez, I stood in the hallway outside a banquet room with a Gonzalez supporter. He was a seasoned campaign man with a white beard, glasses, and a knit tie who seemed both encouraged and disheartened: encouraged because Gonzalez was winning statewide, mostly due to a crushing, three-to-one lead in King County, and disheartened because the opponent Bruce Danielson was winning the vast majority of the state's other counties.
Danielson raised approximately $0, barely campaigned, and is far less qualified. (He lost to Gonzalez in a poll of legal professionals in Danielson's home county of Kitsap by something like 90 to 2, Gonzalez said last night.)
But the votes kept pouring in for Danielson—probably because, as Eli wrote in this story, he has an Anglo name and many voters who don't do their homework (and who, in most counties for this cycle, didn't even get voters' guides to compare the candidates' accomplishments) have been shown in studies to just vote for the guy with the Anglo name. Here is a map of last night's county-by-county results in the Gonzalez-Danielson race.
"If America thinks it's solved its racial problems..." the campaign man said and trailed off.
"They should just look at your iPhone," I offered.
Earlier that night, municipal court judge Veronica Alicea-Galvan said that if the ballots didn't have the names Danielson and Gonzalez, but just listed their credentials, Gonzalez would win by a landslide across the state.
Gonzalez won last night, but only because of a few counties in western Washington (mostly King and Pierce). If Adams County had its way, for example, Danielson would have won 71% to 29% in this non-partisan, little-publicized race for a judicial seat that most voters in Adams County probably don't know much about. "On the merits, we win," Gonzalez said in a speech last night before all the votes were in. "But there is a threat of racially polarized voting, which researchers at the University of Washington say exists."
During last night's drop, as people watched their laptops and cell phones, racially polarized voting didn't look like a threat. It looked like a reality.