I have flashbacks sometime from the many election stories I have written about “turnout” or how important its role was in the election, even if it isn’t important.
It’s election day. Let’s go pick us a governor and a congressman and perhaps a Jay Pee — Justice of the Peace — or two.
In the newsroom sits a half-a-dozen pizzas with a rainbow coalition of toppings. That is, if the reporters have been good this year. If not they have no dinner at all during election night coverage. It is an “all hands on deck” type of night when even your sports writers are getting election results from some county almost halfway across Texas. All angles will be covered and as many looks as possible will result from this saturation coverage of “The Vote 2010.” That’s the motto adopted by the editorial board. Some of the more liberal writers call it: “2010 Election: Welcome to Hell!”
But Hell could do without an interview with the new precinct constable, especially in a neighboring county. What Hell couldn’t do without is turnout.
“Turnout” is the big word during the election. A story summarizing the election or a piece by itself has to run. Election coverage just could not function without a voting turnout story. “The readers,” say the editors, “Really want to know about the turnout.”
Okay. “Let the readers, go down to the polls themselves and ask how many people voted,” say a couple of the most jaded of the writers. At least one of the reporters had an idea of what would be better in the place of a turnout story. The other didn’t.
So it’s shuffle down to the fire station. Yep, got a lot of people there. One of the gathered campaign workers at the legal distance from the polling place has a placard that says: “WWJD? Vote a straight Republican ticket.” A little over the top, but fair is fair. A lookalike of Paul Stookey, of Peter, Paul and Mary, walks in a deliberate kind of half-stomp, half-hoof, holding a hand-cut and carved stick on top of which is a sign proclaiming: “Responsible Corporate Officers don’t let other Responsible Corporate Officers pollute!”
A total of 256 people had voted from 7 a.m. until now, which is 3:52 p.m. Okay! Now what remains to investigate is only the city hall, the elementary school, the black church, and, of course, the courthouse. By the end of the day, it will be determined that 20,000 people have voted. “Not a bad turnout when the average is 15,000,” says the local Democratic chairman, who has someone on hold on his office phone, while he talks with the reporter on his party-paid Blackberry.
Officialdom has no shortage of cliches, banality and perhaps a hackneyed phrase or two when it comes to searching for the truth that is “turnout” this election.
“The turnout has been pretty steady,” said a deputy county clerk.
“There are a lots more people than I have seen in several years,” a Republican poll watcher said.
“Perhaps if we sucked the venom out of it,” an EMT said on the way out, kneeling with his partner around some small Hispanic-looking child.
The only way left to cap off the turnout is to call the local election officials or see what the Secretary of State’s Web site shows. “These are unofficial totals,” the newspaper warns. The price for a 2-pc. chicken dinner with fries, a biscuit and a medium-sized drink at Church’s is only an unofficial total. Not only will the total be subject to sales tax but the fried food will stop up your arteries.
Finally! There is little else damage to do tonight. Election time is over, time to go home, go party.
No, got to get home. It’s been a long night. No party. Let the younger kids do that. The bar will have to wait yet another night.
Home at last! Time for some pretzels, some adult beverages. Work won’t happen until 10 a.m. “We did an excellent job,” said the associate city editor just before most in the office started leaving. Just imagine how badly it would have turned out without the pizza. It would have been 10 times better if we had real food. But the Newspaper has to send the Boy Wonder to the Gobi Desert this summer to contemplate “A Horse With No Name,” as if one could.
Flip on the TV, Rick the Hairy Headed Honcho, holds a lead over Bald Bill White in the race for governor. It’s really a pretty impotent position in Texas when you look at it closely. The Republicans are going to take over Congress. Let’s run!
But it’s in one’s own company the world has sort of emptied out a bit. The pretzels are now in a little bowl, and the adult beverage is nearby. On “Sports Center” is a big dialogue between Bob Knight, Jon Gruden and Charles Barkley over what the turnover in the U.S. House will mean to sports. The greatest political team in the history of mankind is on the next channel, fiddling with an interactive wall while simultaneously receiving minute-by-minute totals of the proposition in Maryland which would allow dogs to wear bandannas that could cover the entire skull or at least around their heads.
A total of 2,700 votes have voted “yes” and 2,001 for the “no.”
“It’s a tight race,” says the analyst.
“We don’t need refs, but I guess white guys need something to do,” Charles Barkley remarks.
“It’s all about the turnout,” the bearded TV news hosts says.