The first election night I worked in a newsroom was 1972. Nixon beat McGovern, and the election was called, not prematurely, at 6 p.m. or so, about the same time I walked into the office to start a double shift. My impression of that night is one of disappointment and bleakness mixed with the fun and satisfaction that I’ve always had in doing the news for events both great and small.

I’m not sure I recall the last election evening I was in the newsroom. For a presidential election, it might have been ’88–one that deserves forgetting.

Last night I’ll remember for awhile. Yeah, I’ll admit the outcome was satisfying (though I think my main feelings were relief and a sense of how surreal it is that what came to pass came to pass). But I’ll also remember it for the fun and satisfaction of working with a group that responded well to the work at hand. I went in at 5 o’clock with only a general outline sketched out of where we wanted reporters to go and what sort of stories we’d like them to do. I left after 6 a.m. after watching everyone generate enough good stuff that we could have filled our regular newscasts several times over (luckily, we had an expanded time slot today).

I slept a little. Not enough. I don’t have to work this evening, so I have today to regroup and reflect and hope I won the office election pool.

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Polling Place


Noontime. Thom and I went to vote together, with the dog in town. Our polling place was quiet. The optical scanning machine used in Alameda County displays how many ballots have been registered for the day, and I was Number 92. So many people do early voting or mail-in voting in our area — maybe 60 percent — that lines at the polls may be a thing of the past.

Media at Work

You read, listen to, and watch the media. I’m sure not 30 seconds go by without you saying to yourself, “Boy, this is thoughtful and deep. How did these people get to be so smart?”

Here’s one of our secrets: smart publicists who anticipate our every need and who know our audiences inside out. This morning’s case in point: an email from an agency that will remain unnamed–though lord knows they ought to get all the plaudits they’re due.

Here’s how the email starts out:

EENY MEENY MINY MO: The latest Associated Press poll finds one in seven voters – or 14 percent – are still undecided or could be persuaded to change their minds.

On the eve of the election, our expert guests are available to take one last look into the issues in and surrounding this historic election:

1. Don’t Let Subconscious Prejudices Sway Your Vote At The Last Moment: What if you can’t bring yourself to vote for a black man or a white woman? Are your suddenly prejudice? Cultural Diversity Expert and Consultant for Harvard Business School, Martha Fields, shares how people can process their feelings of emerging racism, sexism or ageism that may have been triggered by this election so you can vote for who you feel is best, regardless of race, sex or age.

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My Club

Because California has joined the national movement to hold presidential primaries no later than the beginning of the previous year’s Christmas shopping season, we had two primary votes this election cycle. On SuperDuper Tuesday, we voted for presidential candidates and a slew of ballot measures. Yesterday, we voted on state legislative races, a couple more initiatives, some local officials, and party central committee members. (Not that I know who the members of the Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee are, and not that I understand what it is they do. I voted for one yesterday, Wes Van Winkle, because–I know someone who uses this method for betting on horses–I like his name. He didn’t win.)

I felt blasé about the election. I didn’t have any strong feelings about anyone or anything on the ballot. When I finally overcame my inertia to go vote late in the afternoon, the polling place was deserted. The poll workers acted like they hadn’t had much business all day (someone commented that I was the 57th person to vote for the day; they had been open for 10 hours at that point). This is in Berkeley, where people miss no opportunity and spare no effort to express their opinions.

I don’t know the city turnout. But countywide, 24.24 percent of registered voters cast ballots (that includes mail-in/”absentee” ballots). Pretty anemic, but better than the statewide figure, 22.2 percent. In our SuperDuper primary, 57.7 percent of registered voters participated, and 60.1 percent in Alameda County.

That February vote got a lot of attention because of the high turnout. It’s true that it was the highest in a long time (see the California Secretary of State’s table (PDF file) of primary election statistics going back to 1910). But if you go back to the 1980 primary, 63.3 percent of registered voters turned out–perhaps because of the presence on the ballot of Proposition 13, the initiative that slashed property taxes in the state and helped make it much, much harder for counties to raise them. Or maybe not: 1980 itself marked the beginning of a long term trend toward lower primary turnouts in presidential years. The primaries from 1964 through 1976 all recorded turnout from 70.95 to 72.6 percent.

Of course, if you look at yesterday’s statewide participation in terms of percentage of eligible voters, it’s much lower. California has about 23 million people qualified to go to the polls; about 16 million are registered. Yesterday’s turnout was just over 3 million, or a shade over 13 percent. I never thought that by voting I’d be in an exclusive club.

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Who Votes

I’ll refrain from beating the usual dead horse–why don’t more people vote?–just to observe that the turnout estimate for California is just over 50 percent of registered voters. To break it down with the round numbers I heard on the news, the state has 22 million-some eligible voters, 15.8 million of whom are registered. About 8.1 million of the registered group is expected to vote, because nothing is on the ballot except the usual–the state’s future. But I said I wouldn’t beat that horse, and I won’t, except to offer the quick off-the-cuff arithmetic that 8.1 million out of 22 million is something like 37 percent. I think the Iraqis, with deadly peril all around, did a lot better than that. But then, they have something to vote for.

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Moving On

Somewhere in the dim past, I gave money to, or signed one of its petitions, or maybe did some phone-banking in 2004. However it happened, they called me a week or so ago to get me to volunteer to make phone calls this week. I agreed, but something came up the first night I was supposed to go, so I didn’t show. They called again. Last night, I went in for the first of several evenings of calling–contacting people like me who have somewhere along the line said yes to something MoveOn asked them to do and who are now being asked to call voters in key congressional races.

After an orientation about the calling process and the script we were to use, I started dialing. My targets were folks in the 831 area code–Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, mostly. The goal was to get people to commit to six hours of phone work in the last five days of the campaign, Friday through election day. Since we were calling MoveOn people, the task seemed a little easier at the outset than cold-calling people on voter registration rolls who may or (more likely) may not want any part of your get-out-and-vote rap. I could hear fellow volunteers happily announcing (by ringing desk bells) that they were getting commitment after commitment. A lot of people want to have a sense they’re doing something to effect some change, any change.

In two hours or so, I made 34 calls. About half went to answering machines. About half a dozen were wrong numbers or fax lines or otherwise “bad.” The rest–let’s say a dozen–picked up. Three said don’t call here again. About four said call back because there are trick-or-treaters at the door. Another four said, gee, we’d like to help, but we can’t for one reason or another. That leaves one person.

She began by telling me she’d fallen asleep at the computer while trying to figure out the MoveOn calling system and thought she’d better not try any more calling. Really? I asked. Why? “Because I’m old and tired,” she said. “Hey, join the crowd,” I told her. “The only thing that’s keeping me going is being in a room full of people doing the same thing.” She listened, and after a little cajoling committed to attending “phone parties” on Saturday and Sunday.

That’s my success story. It’s enough to keep me going back for more.

Some snippets from other people I talked to:

“I can’t make long-distance calls because I’m on a plan that only allows me two hours of long-distance calls a month.”

“I don’t have any time man–I’m looking for work.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t–I have a mother who’s in the middle of dying.”

“I’m just on my way out the door to see David Sedaris. Call back tomorrow.”

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