By Lynn Venhaus
Back in my news reporter days in ‘80s, ‘90s and early 2000s, I loved working Election Nights. Pre-computer and smart phone, we would wait for each precinct to be tallied – those were the days of the “chads,” and it was a waiting game, many a long night.
We’d have good conversations among the press corps — talk about signs, trends, who was riding a sea change, and the status quo. We’d be at courthouses, trying not to get in the way of staff but needing to call in those numbers. Wade through the crowd huddled around a bulletin board to see the latest posted computer sheet print-out. Spot a candidate and get victory statements.
You see a lot observing candidates, party leaders and local government workers. Integrity, work ethic, decency — shouldn’t it matter?
In my early days, I’d be live on small market radio with totals as we got them, or calling in to an editor. I would make arrangements ahead of time with some helpful official to be able to use their office telephone and they would graciously wait til the final count was communicated. I thanked them profusely.
That was in Illinois, and in later years, the Associated Press would contract me for the night to call In the local totals. to add to the national results. You know – those TV totals you would see on screen.
I was at the Marion County Courthouse in Salem, home of William Jennings Bryan and creator of a Miracle Whip, the night Carol Moseley Braun defeated Alan Dixon, aka “Al the Pal,” for the US Senate seat in 1992. Dixon had been a Senator for 12 years after serving as Secretary of State and Treasurer in Illinois, and 20 years in state legislature. (In my hometown of Belleville, he was a legend. Took care of his people. Knew everyone.) She was the first African-American woman in the history of the Senate.
About a decade ago, digital computers and 24/7 news changed things. With electronic results, you could look up a county online. They did not need us to be foot soldiers on the ground. We all moved on in the digital world. There is nothing like racing back to the office and Typing up the results to make print deadline, running on adrenaline, caffeine and snacks from the vending machine.
However, I was already home when, in the wee hours of the morning, CBS declared Gore won and then retracted it. Chaos. Supreme Court decided that W won in 2000, despite Gore winning popular vote.
I haven’t worked an election night for at least four election cycles. But I still like to watch the totals come in, whether it is primary, municipal or general election.
When there is an upset or a tight race won by a slim amount of votes, you feel like you see democracy in action. That the people have spoken. The turnout really mattered, changing lives.
Today, in the city of St. Louis, my polling place was quiet. I squirted hand sanitizer, got my Q-tip and opted for electronic ballot. Easy peasy. Thanked the workers — we were all in masks so you can’t smile but you can look them in the eyes.
Watching the totals isn’t the same, but what is?
Been voting since I was 18, the first batch of voters to be given that privilege in 1972, thanks to Amendment 26.
This is Democracy in action.
We the People.
What a precious ritual and right we have. Should be a cause for unity.
Never take for granted the power of an idea, the importance of grassroots efforts, and the desire to make a change, be the change. You see something, do something.
People died and were beaten for the opportunity to cast a ballot and make their voice heard. Voter suppression is real and still takes place today — if we do one thing to honor the late American hero, Congressman John Lewis, then fight for this right.
Never lose hope and do not give in to fear. Note to self: Absentee ballots are the same as mail-in ballots.
Sweet land of liberty. Let freedom ring.
And God bless the USPS. And all the poll workers today and every election.VOTE Nov. 3, no matter the method. Just get ‘r done.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.