Today is election day in the United States, so despite my overall bad feelings about politics at the moment, I’m going back to my roots as a political junkie and watching the results as they come in around the country today. I’ll be watching on TV and online at the same time, and considering the differences in media coverage in both mediums. The following post will be updated live throughout the day and night, with the most recent information at the top, and the time it was posted.
11:24 pm Pacific Time
Call it “The 2000 Effect.” The TV networks have been a bit slower than usual to call close races, as they did in 2000, when they turned out to be wrong. In one case tonight, CNN ran a live victory speech by Missouri Democratic candidate Claire McCaskill, while simultaneously saying that they hadn’t projected that she would win the race. It took what seemed like an hour between the speech time and the actual time when they eventually called it in her favor.
And Jim Webb, the Democratic challenger in Virginia, also gave a speech where he said, “The votes are counted, and we won!” to loud applause. But despite his talk of a victory, Webb’s slim margin probably will trigger a recount that could last until Christmas. For that reason, no network at this point called the race for Webb, including CNN.
But then again, who watches CNN, when the network is obviously aiding terrorists, according to a hotel that recently dropped the CNN news networks.
At this moment, I’d have to say that the most important updates to the Virginia race are happening on this web page, which is run by the Commonwealth of Virginia itself. It shows Webb with a lead of about 7,600 votes, with 99.67% of the votes counted. On the Washington Post site, in contrast, it’s still showing Webb with a lead of more than 11,000 votes with 99.8% of votes counted (even though the raw numbers are less than on the Virginia site).
Of course, this race would have long been over, if it weren’t for the Green Party candidate racking up more than 26,000 votes that would have instead gone to the Democrat. The wildest possibility is that legal challenges would lead to an actual vote in the U.S. Senate itself to make a final determination on who would win this Virginia race. The Senate would have 48 Dems, 2 Independents who lean Dem, and 49 Repubs. So Webb could win on a 50-49 Senate vote, but it could be fillibustered by the GOP, according to Daniel Lowenstein of UCLA Law School.
Sure, you’ve got your late-night talking heads on TV to surmise and suggest and guess, but the bloggers and online experts seem to be digging even deeper into the legalese and campaign rules.
9:15 pm Pacific Time
The weird incongruities continue online, where some things are updated, and others aren’t. On the Washington Post home page, there’s an AP video in the lead spot on the page, the first time I’ve seen that there. But below that, on the very geographically relevant Virginia Senate race, there’s a cutline reading: “Allen holds very narrow lead.” But just below that, in returns that are more updated than the copy, it shows Webb with a slight lead. Ah, the joys of updating a web site.
The New York Times political blog noted that the networks were already making noises about this Virginia race turning into a redux of Florida in 2000, with an automatic recount coming if there’s less than a 1% margin of victory for either side.
For exultant Democrats, there’s nothing more satisfying than watching a leading conservative blogger go from confident to despondent in the space of one long live-blogging post. Here’s Captain Ed’s early evening prediction on the Senate results:
I expect either Jim Talent or George Allen to get edged out, but it’s such a toss-up that I’m going to figure that they’ll win at least one. Michael Steele will win Paul Sarbanes’s open Maryland seat, adding one back in for the GOP. Corker, Burns, Chafee all win, and on Wednesday we will all wonder why anyone counted Jon Kyl as anything but a solid Republican hold. In the end, the split will be 53-45-2 [for the GOP].
Later on, that confidence turned cold for the Cap’n:
12:43 — And we didn’t need this news, but Talent just dropped a thousand votes behind McCaskill in Missouri. That might lose us control of the Senate…very bad news.
At the moment, the Senate seems down to three votes — Montana, Missouri and Virginia — with the Democrats needing to win all three. Both Montana and Missouri seem to be trending toward Democrats, leaving the very close race in Virginia, and its potential recount, as “The Decider.” Yikes… And not to forget, but that 51-vote majority for the Democrats includes Joe Lieberman, who lost his Democratic primary before winning as an independent. I wonder whose side he’ll be on by tomorrow…
8:44 pm Pacific Time
As the results seemed to be slowing a bit, I decided to step out to pick up some food for dinner. Wouldn’t you know, while I was at the burger joint, the TV was tuned into MSNBC (which I don’t get on my home cable), and the network was announcing that the Democrats would win the House. As I was in the car driving home, I turned on the local NPR station, and NPR News seemed almost antiquated with its announcement that the Democrats had picked up just 10 seats in the House and nothing was yet decided on whether they would win either House of Congress.
When I got back home and switched on CNN, the network was still caught up in other issues for awhile before calling the House for Democrats as well. They quickly switched to the Democratic HQ in Washington, which showed a scene of utter jubiliation. Those cheers live on TV made me realize that it’s hard to have that experience while surfing sites online. You just don’t run into crowds cheering like that.
The live feel of TV seems to compensate for all those talking head moments that seem so superfluous. However, I’ve noticed that Pajamas Media, the conservative blog aggregator, has gone a bit overboard on online video on its home page — all seemingly served through YouTube. There is a lot of video and coverage of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s impending win in California, one of the few conservative bright spots so far.
One weird thing I did notice on CNN’s coverage. On TV, Wolf Blitzer was talking about the close Virginia Senate race, and how “we’re checking to see where the uncounted votes are going to come from.” All he needed to do was check CNN’s own website, where there’s a great county-by-county breakdown of which precincts hadn’t been counted. Because the last two precincts — Arlington and Charlottesville — were overwhelmingly Democratic so far — it seemed obvious that most of the last votes coming in would be for the Democratic challenger, Jim Webb.
Sure enough, when the percent of precincts counted went from 98% to 99%, Webb took the lead. What’s uncertain is whether there are still absentee votes to be counted as well…
6:42 pm Pacific Time
So far, the early word is that exit polls show people are upset with national issues such as the Iraq war and Congressional corruption, and are thinking nationally and not locally. That’s a bad sign for Republican incumbents, who are starting to drop in the early projections, with a few seats lost in the House and Senate.
I’ve been checking out some of the top news sites online and blogs, and have been looking over my shoulder at CNN and Fox News on cable TV. TV is a mix of talking heads and numbers flying around the screen, whether in tickers below the talking heads or in graphics on screen while the talking heads are doing their talking. During dead time when no races are being called one way or the other, the talking heads usually try some on-the-fly analysis.
CNN is particularly funny with their sprawling studio, with Wolf Blitzer alternating with Anderson Cooper as MC’s. They wander around, talking to analysts or pointing to a gigantic TV screen with numbers and race results.
Online, there’s a mix of words and pictures, along with race results that come in. The problem with watching the web is that you don’t really see anything change without reloading the page. The action comes from checking out news feeds and sites and clicking around, not from hearing someone tell you what’s going on. Of course there are plenty of online video services, such as CNN Pipeline and ABCNews Now that have live TV-like feeds.
I’ve been especially enjoying the Wall Street Journal Online’s Election Day Blog Watch, that’s free for anyone to follow. The Journal’s Aaron Rutkoff is doing a nice job giving highlights from what’s happening on blogs — from the CNN blogger drink-fest to some inside information on exit polls from the New Republic’s blog, The Plank. Those inside sources tell The Plank that all the battleground Senate seats look good for Democrats except for Tennessee.
So far, there haven’t been too many leaked exit polls, unlike the 2004 debacle, where Slate and others were predicting big Democratic wins that never happened.
12:38 pm Pacific Time
I voted this morning in the mid-term elections, and there was something different about my voting experience here in San Francisco. I decided to participate in the Polling Place Photo Project, which is described on its site as “a nationwide experiment in citizen journalism that seeks to empower citizens to capture, post and share photographs of democracy in action.”
The idea is to have people around the country photograph their experiences with voting booths, voting technology, lines of people, problems with staffing, etc. I knew that my sleepy neighborhood in San Francisco would not likely have any of these problems, but I took my handy smartphone along with me to snap some photos anyway. I wondered about the legality of photographing the voting place, and the Center for Citizen Media included a handy legal guide for most states on this issue.
For the state of California, it was pretty clear that, “No person shall, with the intent of dissuading another person from voting, within 100 feet of a polling place…[p]hotograph, videotape, or otherwise record a voter entering or exiting a polling place.” (Cal Elec Code § 18541.) I had no intent to dissuade anyone from voting, so I decided to snap the photos and upload them. I shot a few photos of the signs outside the garage where I voted, along with the garage entrance. Once inside the voting space, I snapped a shot of the paper ballot as well as one of the voting booth.
After marking my paper ballot, I went over to put the lengthy ballot pages into an electronic box. I asked one of the friendly poll workers if he would snap my photo as I voted, and he said, “Sure.” Another poll worker made a funny face about it but said nothing. He snapped my photo, and it’s this one at left. I’m not sure what I proved by doing this except that people can be pretty laid back in San Francisco, and there are more important things to worry about than people photographing themselves at polling places.
After taking the photos and going into work, I uploaded the photos to the Polling Place Photo Project website. The only problem is that I accidentally uploaded one wrong photo, a headshot of someone not connected with my voting experience. There was no way to correct that on the site, so I had to fill out a special contact form on the site to get someone to correct that manually. Seems like a bit of a technical glitch for the site, which was apparently put together very quickly.
I will keep my eye on the Polling Place Photo Project as the day progresses, along with various other mainstream media sites, political blogs, cable news, and more, and update this blog post frequently. Please join me in this quest by passing along any links to sites that fascinate you in their election coverage or commentary — or if they have early exit polling information. Simply use the comments below or the Feedback Form on the blog to tell me what you find. I’m especially interested in great uses of new media, interactivity or citizen journalism.