Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Democrats Win 2648 Election, You Heard It Here First

Let's dispense with all the hoopla. I've found over the years that when you don't watch election coverage, and just get told who won and have that be the end of it, you come away with a much clearer head about the next step than if you put yourself on an emotional roller-coaster over every set of newly-announced votes.

So let's just rip the band-aid off if you haven't heard already: Scott Walker survived his recall attempt.

He isn't totally out of the woods yet, though; the Democrats gained a seat (pending a possible recount; it was pretty close) and in so doing took control of the Wisconsin State Senate, which throws a roadblock in front of any further legislative efforts by Walker. He also still has that John Doe corruption investigation to worry about. Any reporting you hear that tries to paint this as the definitive end to the story and predicting that Wisconsinites are going to now bury the hatchet and come together all puppies and rainbows is dead wrong.

Actually, no, let's have a little bit of hoopla. I want to point out this article where the Democrat in question, John Lehman, won the race that shifted control of the State Senate (again, pending potential recount). Take it away, Nameless Article Writer Person:

Galloway's resignation left the chamber evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, 16-16, going into Tuesday's elections. Democrats needed to win just one race to seize the majority. Republicans needed to take all four.

And the GOP came up big, lodging three convincing wins:

That's right. They needed to win four, and they came up big with a convincing three. Also known as less than four. Someone was paid money to write that.

That said, there is one part of the coverage that got me mad anyway: according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette, NBC was the first to call the race for Walker, at 9 PM. Which is one thing; the polls were scheduled to close at 8.

The problem: they weren't actually closed yet. There were still people in line to vote at 9:30 PM.

This is a gigantic screw-up on the part of NBC, and one that I'm already seeing is helping to fuel the now-perpetual political anger further. You do not call a race while people are still in line to vote. It does not matter what the margin is. It doesn't matter if it's a 40-point blowout. If you call a race while people are still voting, and they hear the race called, what's going to happen is at least a couple of those people are going to get out of line and go home. After all, the people on the news just told them not to bother anymore, because they've already declared the winner. This literally causes people to not vote that otherwise would have, which undoes all the hard work done to get America's notoriously apathetic voting populace to the polls in the first place. In the process, not only is the race in question losing voters, but so are races downballot that, you never know, may end up swinging because of those lost voters.

I'm not accusing NBC of having a particular interest in who wins. Maybe they do. Maybe they don't. That's not the issue at hand as far as I'm concerned. The issue at hand is calling a race while there are people in line who haven't voted yet. News networks on election night seem concerned primarily with being the first to call the race, sometimes even sacrificing accuracy for speed. You all remember Florida in 2000, right? Networks call Florida for Gore, retract call, call it again for Bush, retract it again, and then a month of hanging chads and butterfly ballots and accidental Pat Buchanan ensues. What exactly is the reward for being first? Does the first network to call a race get a food pellet? A new car? The antidote?

Effectively, all that happens when you're first is that you get to run ads afterward on your network complimenting yourself for being the first to call a race. That's it. Seriously, nobody outside the networks cares who's first. I have never once heard someone say 'I get my news from [network] because they were the first to call the race on election night!'

I have, however, heard plenty of people say 'What the hell is [network] doing calling the race so early? They haven't even counted any votes yet! Why are you calling a race on exit polls? Did you learn NOTHING from 2000?!' Calling a race is like calling balls and strikes: if people are noticing you doing it, you've screwed up.

In 2007, Canada's Supreme Court ruled on the case R v. Bryan. The court upheld, by a 5-4 ruling, section 329 of the Canada Elections Act, which states that election results cannot be published in areas that have not finished voting yet- with TV and the Internet, this basically means nobody announces results anywhere until everyone is done voting, so that nobody has any sort of an information advantage on anyone else. In 2000, a guy named Paul Charles Bryan published results from the Maritime provinces while polls out west were still open, and was brought up on charges in British Columbia, ultimately fined $1,000. According to CBC News' senior executive producer Mark Bulgutch, "We're disappointed, there's no doubt about it... We can't expand on what we do… the potential is not realized. It prevents us from engaging people in the story. We thought we could make election night a bigger event that it already is."

Believe me, Mark, you're better off with the blackout. Far better to sit there twiddling your thumbs for a couple hours and sacrifice the horserace coverage than to see people come out of line thinking their vote doesn't matter anymore where it did an hour ago. We could actually use something like that here, to keep things like what happened last night from happening again. If that means Squatter's Notch and Squirrel's Asshole, New Hampshire can't have their first-towns-in-America-to-announce-election-results 15 minutes of fame every four years, too bad. They can still vote first if they want; they just have to sit on the results until the last voter in Hawaii goes home.

Election night is always a big night. You don't need the media to make it a big night. The media just has to not ruin that night.

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