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An Elections Wonk

November 4th, 2020 · No Comments · France, Journalism, Sports Journalism

It was four years ago that I confessed, on this site, to being an elections wonk.

I watch them for fun. For entertainment. For my own edification. For belly laughs. To watch my countrymen at their best, or worst.

Probably the main reason I watch them is that a big election — like, say, the U.S. presidential election yesterday — reminds me a lot of my working career.

Elections are basically simple, like many sports, and are ruthlessly competitive. Whoever has bigger numbers wins. contests are scheduled long in advance, deep planning is required and millions of people watch. Elections are the Super Bowl of democracy. Well, in theory.

My current living arrangement, however, makes it a bit more difficult to watch a contest from peppy opening to the notional final vote, several hours down the line.

That is is because I live in France, which is six hours ahead of the east coast of the United States. Meaning, I get the opening salvos at about 1 a.m. local time. Which is a bit of a job, but also another reminder of how elections resemble sports writing. (You cover lots of news stories at night, and you’re in a big hurry to get the information where it ought to go.)

In this corner, we had Donald Trump again, running for re-election, and in the other, the challenger, Joe Biden, former senator and, under Barack Obama, former vice-president.

As is often the case, Indiana and Kentucky came up early, and Fox News called them for Trump. (Trump was always going to take those two states as long as he had a pulse.)

Then came the first wave, and we settled into five to 10 minutes of exhilaration while sizing up the latest information, followed by maybe a half-hour of bloviating till the next set of polls closed.

I should note I did not watch Fox only. I had a rotation of three U.S. based election crews at my disposal. The others being MSNBC, which was pretty solid, and CNN, which was the least interesting and most cautious of the three.

I would watch any of them if the other two stations had gone to commercials.

So, 2 a.m., 3 a.m., 4 a.m. … and it seemed like a lot was going on, but wasn’t really. It was slower than … well, a World Series game. And I love baseball.

A lot of time was the networks spent trying to explain the “late voting by mail” situation. So, yeah, you can think a candidate had wrapped up a state, because it was showing “99 percent of precincts reporting”, only to be reminded that it would change, probably radically, once these late mail ballots showed up.

I was getting punchy by 5 a.m., so I retired to the sack and tried to deep-breathe my way out of anxiety, which I seem to have caught from the broadcasters.

Also, it had been made clear that several (a half-dozen or so) of the states’ voting numbers would not by announced by the various states until the next day — or later. I could lie on the couch till dawn and still not see an “end” to the proceedings.

I have seen three big elections, while living in France. The past two presidential elections, and the Brexit vote from England. The third of those, the Brexit vote, was a lot of fun, for someone who wants to see British politicians and pundits in action.

And, then, in the case of Brexit, the drama-cum-pie in the face when the results began rolling in and the “no sweat, we’ve got this” attitude of British politicians and journalists was destroyed — and became clear the electorate was quite ready to leave the European Union, despite what pre-vote polls suggested.

You could hear a pin drop. Or a pen.

There was something like that, too, when four years ago the studio folk blanched and went white in the face when “No Chance Donald” was called to be the next president.

France has elections of course. But a person must be a citizen, which is only fair. But I can watch them, and I think the presidential election is coming up in a couple of years. The U.S. mid-terms, two years hence, are the next big event on the American schedule.

There is no “do-over” for the one we saw last night, but another will come along presently — in 2024.

I have seen every presidential election since 1960, when I was in second grade and John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon. So that makes … 16 presidential elections I have seen, and 12 I have voted in, going back to 1972.

If there were a way to have elections more often, I think we could make that a TV staple. The conventions (in non-Covid years), platforms, debates, dirty tricks, campaign stops, polls, preening studio folk and the sometimes random but earnest U.S. elections. Hey, 2024! I can’t wait!


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