David Krause: Election Night in a newsroom is like Super Bowl Sunday in the sports department
Hard to believe, but we’re having our third election in less than a year in Aspen.
The process of covering elections has advanced just as the elections have — with mail-in and drop-off ballots becoming more popular and coming in earlier than those historic long lines on Election Day. Results are counted and returned faster on a local level.
We should have a pretty good idea on how the races and ballot questions are going about 30 minutes after the polls close at 7 p.m.
In talking with Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder Janice Vos Caudill last week for our annual pre-election check-in, she has about 35 people filling 100 spots on the schedule to count and judge ballots. Last November, she had double that. We should get our first drop of results by 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Vos Caudill said, and then again about two hours later.
In March, more than 4,300 voters cast ballots in Aspen’s City Council election. The move to March (instead of May) is an effort to try to get more people to turn in ballots. During the Nov. 4, 2020, presidential election, there were 11,956 ballots cast of 13,774 active Pitkin County voters. As of Wednesday, there were 14,107 active registered voters, Vos Caudill said.
My first experience working as a journalist on Election Night was in 1988, and it was on a hyper-local level much like what I do now in Aspen, but with a few technological improvements.
I was working as a full-time copy editor/page designer in the sports department at The Daily Oklahoman, but it happened to be my night off (yeah, Tuesday and Wednesday days off … loads of fun). The Associated Press back then would hire people to sit at each of the county courthouses and call in results as they were updated by the clerk. Seemed like an easy 50 bucks, so I said sure.
I was 21 and a junior at the University of Oklahoma, and the Cleveland County courthouse was about 2 miles from my rental house. Little did I know when I left after dinner to head to the courthouse that I wouldn’t be back until the next morning. Nearly 60,000 ballots were cast, and while the big draw was the Bush-Dukakis race, I just remember the local judges frantically pacing up and down those historic courthouse hallways.
My job was to call the AP office in Oklahoma City every time the clerk came out and updated the board. “Bring a lot of quarters,” was the last bit of advice the AP bureau chief gave me. Every time there was an update, I would have to use an old pay phone in the lobby. I think my last call was just before 1 a.m., and I remember the chief saying, “OK, that should be good. You can go home now.”
After that, I settled into a nice career in the sports department and that lasted until the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. I was a deputy sports editor at The Denver Post, but for a week was shifted to the news department to help produce a daily special section that week leading up to the Obama nomination at whatever the new Mile High Stadium was called then.
For newsrooms and political reporters, covering an election is kind of like a Super Bowl in the sports department — you wait around all day then once the game starts (results start coming in), you’re pumping and running until that final deadline forces you to stop typing.
Tuesday night, we’ll post our first stories online as soon as we hear from Janice’s crew, and we’ll update them as the evening goes along. (If you need to get caught up before you drop your ballot by 7 p.m. Tuesday, check out our election page at aspentimes.com/election.)
There is a tradition and kind of a rite of passage among newsrooms known as “Election Night Pizza.” It’s a hashtag that will be trending Tuesday among us newsroom nerds. And even that tradition as changed as we’ve started to bring in wings, tacos, barbecue and — dare I say it — salads.
So, Tuesday night, our crew will be burning the midnight oil until our last page goes to press. Before then we’ll be stress eating and stuffing our faces with some New York Pizza, which luckily is just steps away from our downtown office.
David Krause has been the editor of The Aspen Times since February 2017 and became a “professional journalist” was he was paid $25 in 1982 for covering a high school football game for the Bethany Tribune-Review.