Election returns have always been a source of excitement in my life; but not without trepidation at times.
I recall as a boy being in the living room of a relative in Port Arthur as the family sat around a radio while votes were announced in a county commissioner race that was won by my cousin Gale Hatch. Every time the radio announcer would begin to recite the latest numbers, the room grew quiet; then erupted into cheers when Hatch’s totals were announced.
The first returns that I participated in as a broadcaster was the presidential election in 1960. I had a very small part that evening; I was actually still in high school and was just hanging around the radio station. That was the night John Kennedy was elected President and Lyndon Johnson was elected Vice President.
The talk in the newsroom that night was that a special election would have to be held to fill Johnson’s Senate seat. John Tower won that election later in the year.
Most of my election coverage duties for the remainder of the 1960s were in radio studios, with the veteran reporters at the courthouse, or wherever votes were being tabulated, having what sounded like a very good time. I felt that I was “paying my dues” and would be able to enjoy elections in the field in the future.
In the 1970s, I moved to the front line and began to find the excitement more stressful than pleasurable.
By that time, my duties involved dealing with bulky computer printouts in a room in the basement of Rice University with a bunch of reporters from other media outlets, cherry picking from the complex list of races and candidates.
I assumed that the reporters who were assigned to campaign headquarters were having a lot more fun. It sounded like it on the radio. Eventually, I made it to the headquarters beat, but found that assignment less than thrilling. Much time was spent waiting for returns to come in, telephones were not conveniently located for filing stories (this was before cell phones, of course) and the evenings were very long.
It seemed to me that the campaign workers were having a good time, but I later had the opportunity to work for candidates and found that that also was not necessarily true. On one election night, I had to accompany a very large lady to the emergency room when she slipped and fell at the victory party. The candidate and his supporters had a good time, but I had a very long night.
Lest this essay seem totally a downer, I did have a very good time reporting elections during the late 1980s and early 1990s in Galveston, which more closely fit the image I had of election coverage as a boy.
Galveston was small enough that the votes of each precinct were posted on a wall board at City Hall as they came in. In addition to the radio reporters, many candidates and their families, as well as political junkies from all walks of life, would be in the room as we broadcast the results. Other candidates would listen from their homes or headquarters until it was apparent that they were winning; and then they would arrive at City Hall to be interviewed live on the radio.
When we launched GuidryNews.com, we made election coverage a mainstay, expanding our coverage eventually to five counties. In the beginning, we had reporters at the various city halls or courthouses phoning in the numbers from the computer printouts, which we would enter into our election page. It wasn’t much fun, but many people told us how much they appreciated us for providing a reliable central source of election news.
In recent years, election officials in the various counties and cities have improved their electronic tabulation equipment and it is no longer necessary to be physically at the city halls and courthouses. What we previously had to read from computer printouts is now accessible on the websites maintained by the entities.
It is true now that those interested in a particular candidate or race no longer need to monitor the media, whether radio, television or Internet. The computer numbers are available on the entity’s website on demand.
For those with a more global interest however, a regional news service like Guidry News is a clearinghouse that provides an overview of all the elections being held on any given day. I believe that the evolution of election coverage has reached a new pinnacle.
There are some simple improvements that county clerks, city secretaries and other election officials can make that will improve the election experience for members of the public, news reporters, candidates and the election officials themselves.
I will be making those suggestions in another commentary soon.
Correction: In the second paragraph, I originally recalled the event as a state senate race that was won by another cousin, State Senator Jep Fuller. Two of my older siblings, who recall that evening and had participated in Hatch's campaign, reminded me that it was the county commissioner race.