Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Historic elections

No matter how things go on Nov. 8 in the U.S., the outcome will be a big deal. Either we'll have the first female president, or the first authoritarian; in either event, there is no putting the genie back in the bottle.

As we head toward the vote count, I remember the first "big deal" election I was a part of: 2000, Bush vs. Gore. I was working in Florida, so really about as close to a front-row seat as you could ask. But would you actually want a front-row seat? Here's how my day went down.

At work by 1:30 p.m. That's because our first edition closed at 3:30 p.m. (The St. Petersburg Times basically invented aggressive zoning), not because of any planning for electoral craziness.

Of course as the day went on, electoral craziness materialized. The race was tied! Florida's electoral votes would decide the presidency! But there was a wrinkle: no one knew exactly who had won Florida. Before the first statewide edition closed, however, the networks all called the state for Gore. Whew. Front-page headline could announce his victory, right?

You know how this goes. Those calls were based on exit polls, which turned out to be juuuust a bit outside. The state was anyone's to win, and the front page was ripped up for the final edition.

More profanity-focused options were discarded, apparently.

By this time, back in the days where continuous online coverage was a rarity, our work was more or less done. There would not be any more news before the presses rolled again that night. Off to an election night party at the house of a Co-Worker of the Blog!

Except... it was less of a party and more of an extremely boozy cable news watch marathon. None of us had seen anything like this. That feeling didn't change as the night went on. This was more than a close race, it was a total mystery, and as young journalists I think we were expecting someone, somewhere, to come up with an answer while we watched. That didn't happen.

And when I woke up the next morning, fully clothed, on my couch (OK, I was 22, it was a futon) at home the next morning with MSNBC still on, I was no closer to knowing what was going on than I was the night before, although the size of my headache suggested something terrible had happened. There was also an inexplicable shoeprint--my shoe, fortunately--about 7 feet up on the inside of my front door.

The next few months, well, you know how the story unfolded. Vote counting went on for weeks, chads were hung, court cases were heard, and eventually George W. Bush was officially the president.

It was all literally unprecedented. All of it. And Election Night 2000 remains a singular event in my career and in my memory.

This time around, Election Night in America will be Election Morning in Hong Kong. If there's any sweating out of results, it will happen at an inconvenient time for drinking. Let's hope there's no need for anything but a sigh of relief and removing the fivethirtyeight.com bookmark from our browser.

Until 2020.