Election Results Analysis for the Data Hounds

Wednesday, November 4, 2015, 5:34 pm
Chris Root

Editor’s note: A lot of folks in East Lansing love Nate Silver’s analyses of national election data. Well, East Lansing no longer has Nate Silver—he graduated from East Lansing High School in 1996—but we do have Chris Root, who spent much of today geeking out on the voting data charts available at the Ingham County Clerk’s website for yesterday’s East Lansing City Council election. Only ELi brings you this kind of drilling-down of the data!

Crunching the data from yesterday’s election in East Lansing, we learn some interesting things, including which candidate did best in which precincts, to what degree MSU students voted, how many people voted absentee, how voter turnout compared to other recent City Council elections, and more.

The basics:

In this election, six candidates ran for three open seats on the East Lansing City Council. Voters could cast up to three votes (at most one per candidate), and the three candidates who received the most votes won seats on the Council. So the break-point between success and failure was between third and fourth place.

Of total votes cast, Mark Meadows came in first (2,821 votes, 24.5%), Shanna Draheim came in second (2,239 votes, 19.5%), and Erik Altmann came in third (2,212 votes, 19.2%). These three candidates won City Council seats.

Nathan Triplett, the only incumbent running in the election, came in fourth (1,955 votes, 17.0%), Steve Ross came in fifth (1,339 votes, 11.6%), and Jermaine Ruffin came in sixth (934 votes, 8.1%).

Draheim and Altmann received very close to the same number of votes – a difference of only 27 votes between them. The difference between Altmann (2,212) and Triplett (1,955) was 257 votes (2.2 percentage points). So this gap between Altmann (third place) and Triplett (fourth place) represented a significantly wider gap than between Altmann (third place) and Draheim (second place).

Voter turnout and undervoting:

A total of 4,246 people voted in the election out of 20,230 registered voters. The voter turnout of 21% in this election was relatively high for a City Council race in East Lansing. By comparison, the turnout in the 2013 City Council election was 10.7%, and turnout in the 2011 Council race was 12.8%. (East Lansing holds its City Council elections in odd-numbered years, so the turnout in these Council elections is lower than in the even-numbered years when state and national races are on the ballot.)

Each voter could cast up to three votes; the 4,246 voters who participated in the election cast a total of 11,500 votes. This is an average of 2.7 votes per voter, so some voters did not cast all three of their possible votes. This is called “undervoting.” (Read this to see why some voters opt to “undervote.”) The results don’t show us what combinations people voted, so it is not possible for us to see which combinations were prominent among full-voters or under-voters.

Analysis of votes by precinct:

Because all five Council seats are at-large seats, a vote in any precinct had the same impact on the outcome as a vote in any other precinct.

The number of potential voters varies considerably among precincts. Two of East Lansing’s larger neighborhoods, Bailey and Pinecrest, vote in more than one precinct. This table shows the precincts in order of the number of voters who participated in this City Council election as a percent of the city-wide total in this election:


Location/ Neighborhoods

Percent of voters


Glencairn and Oakwood



Southeast Marble & Walnut Heights



Shaw Estates & Pinecrest (part)



Tamarisk, Pinecrest (some), north of Lake Lansing Rd.






Bailey (part - South of Burcham, west)



Chesterfield Hills



Bailey (part - north of Burcham)



Harrison Meadows, Northern Meadows, Abbot Woods



North of Soccer Complex, Hawk's Nest



Red Cedar & Spartan Village



Avondale Square, Bailey (southeast part)



MSU Brody Complex [students]



MSU Main campus [students]



MSU Main campus [students]



MSU Main campus [students]



MSU Main campus [students]



Meadows received the highest number of votes in 11 of the 12 “city precincts” (precincts excluding those located on campus), which corresponds with his receiving 582 more votes than any other candidate overall. The exception was Precinct #7 (Whitehills), where Draheim had the highest number of votes (270 votes). This was also the only precinct where Triplett came in second (268 votes). While Meadows came in third in this precinct (260 votes), he had only ten votes fewer that the top vote-getter.

There are four city precincts where Triplett came in third, receiving a higher proportion of votes than in the six precincts where he came in fourth. The precincts where he polled third were Precincts #8 and #10 (the parts of Bailey neighborhood north of Burcham Drive and at the southeast edge, including Avondale Square) where Triplett lives, Precinct #5 (Tamarisk and the part of Pinecrest north of Lake Lansing Rd.), and Precinct #17 (Hawk’s Nest, north of the soccer complex).

While Draheim and Altmann received very close to the same number of votes city-wide, there was some difference in the support each of them received in different neighborhoods. Draheim received more votes than Altmann in five precincts: 95 more votes in Precinct #7 (Whitehills), 83 more votes in Precinct #5 (Tamarisk and the part of Pinecrest north of Lake Lansing Rd.), 46 more votes in Precinct #17 (Hawk’s Nest, north of the soccer complex), 39 more votes in Precinct #4 (Shaw Estates and part of Pinecrest), 24 more votes in Precinct #8 (Bailey north of Burcham Drive), and 24 more votes in Precinct #11 (Southeast Marble and Walnut Heights).

Altmann received more votes than Draheim in six precincts: 152 more votes in Precinct #9 (the western part of Bailey south of Burcham Drive) where Altman lives, 57 more votes in Precinct #16 (Red Cedar and Spartan Village), 33 more votes in Precinct #2 (Chesterfield Hills) where Draheim resides, 28 more votes in Precinct #10 (the southeast part of Bailey, including Avondale Square), 19 more votes in Precinct #6 (Harrison Meadows, Northern Meadows, Abbot Woods), and 4 more votes in Precinct #3 (Glencairn and Oakwood).

Steve Ross, who came in fifth place city-wide, came in third in two precincts: Precinct #9 (the western part of Bailey south of Burcham Drive), where Altmann lives and polled particularly well, and Precinct #16 (Red Cedar and Spartan Village). Ross and Altmann endorsed each other in this campaign.

Fifth-place candidate Ross polled higher than sixth-place candidate Jermaine Ruffin in all city precincts except for Precinct #7 (Whitehills) and Precinct #17 (Hawk’s Nest and north of the soccer complex). In those precincts, Ruffin came in just above Ross in number of votes.

On-campus (student-voting) precincts:

Of East Lansing’s 17 precincts, five are located on the Michigan State University campus and are comprised exclusively of student voters (Precincts #1 and #12-15). A total of only 32 people cast votes in all five on-campus precincts, less than one percent (0.8%) of all votes cast. Of the votes cast in these student precincts, 22 went to Triplett, 19 to Draheim, 11 to Ruffin, 12 to Ross, 10 to Altmann, and 6 to Meadows.

Absentee ballots:

Absentee ballots accounted for 1,110 of the 4,246 ballots cast, 25.1% of total. In other words, fully one in four voters voted by absentee ballot. (Absentee ballots are identified as “AV precincts” in the vote tally). The distribution of votes for various candidates by those who voted absentee was not significantly different from the ballots at precinct polling locations, although support for Steve Ross appears to have been somewhat stronger among votes cast in person on November 3 as compared to absentee votes.

One might ask whether data from absentee ballots is at all revealing about voters of different age demographics, because one can assume that older voters are overrepresented among absentee voters. But we don’t have accurate data about age and how people vote.

Also, one might ask whether the results were trending differently before the arrival of attack mailers against Erik Altmann from the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce that arrived the last week of the campaign, as compared to the final vote tally. But absentee ballots could be turned in until the close of the polls on election day, so we also lack data about the timing of these various votes.





All ballots

Erik Altmann




Shanna Draheim




Mark Meadows




Steve Ross




Jermaine Ruffin




Nathan Triplett










Want to learn more?

The official statement of the results of the election is available here, on the Ingham County Clerk website, with the breakdown by precinct here.

Have a question about the election results that hasn’t been answered here? Contact us!


UPDATE: November 5, 9 a.m.: We corrected the figure for voter turnout from 20% to 21%. At 5:15 p.m., we corrected one minor error regarding a precinct number.

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