Speaking of contested presidential elections

Do you all happen to remember any details about election night in 20002004(see comments)?

I was working as a roving troubleshooter for the Wayne County (Ohio) Board of Elections all that day, and well into the night. While all of you were watching the results come in, I was preoccupied in a back room at the central election hub of a little podunk Ohio county. If you have good memories you may recall that the networks all had Ohio “too close to call”, but one county’s results were not yet available, and those results could tip the scales. Finally the rest of the country was pretty well decided, but everyone was still waiting on Ohio. CNN was calling. The governor was calling. Bush was calling. Gore was calling. And why were those results not available yet? Well, that’s a closely guarded secret…

You know those movie scenes where the computer wiz has 20 seconds to hack the system and shut down the ticking time bomb? That’s exactly what it felt like in that little back room, working feverishly on an air gapped computer to rectify the situation. The only tools I was allowed to use were MSDOS, Edlin, Notepad, and a keyboard. I worked for several hours, with a dozen anxious people breathing down my neck. I had no idea that the outcome of the election literally hung in the balance (hanging chads notwithstanding). Finally, I believe just a few minutes after midnight, probably with only a split second to spare before total annihilation, success! Printed reports were rushed to the growing crowd of reporters waiting outside. It was just enough to declare Bush the winner in Ohio, and that put him over the top in electoral votes.

This is a true story. My friends, the 20002004(see comments) election really was “hacked”, but not by the Russians. And I assure you, there was nothing nefarious about it.

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7 thoughts on “Speaking of contested presidential elections”

  1. I’m somewhat confused. Bush carried Ohio by about 165,00 votes (~2.5% margin) in 2000. Wayne County only cast about 42,000 votes that year and it went 61/35 for Bush. Why the intense focus on Wayne County? I’d have thought the high-population counties (e.g., Cuyahoga) would have been more interesting to the news weasels.

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  2. Your interesting story could also apply to 2004.  I was at the WGN radio studio election night with my wife, Milt Rosenberg and Marjorie Rosenberg. It was clear that Bush would take Ohio but the networks took forever to call it.

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  3. drlorentz:
    Why the intense focus on Wayne County?

    Richard’s mention of 2004 made me wonder if I might be mixing up election years, but I’m pretty sure the incident I described happened in 2000. The election night counts that every county publishes are not certified, and do not include all valid votes (we always had a stack of several dozen problematic ballots that had to be processed by hand, and then we also had mail in ballots that could arrive for up to a week after election day), so it stands to reason that the election night results were somewhat different from the final certified results. Every county has these uncounted ballots, and even though the numbers are relatively small, it might amount to 200k votes when you add all the counties together (Cuyahoga and Franklin being by far the biggest, and I expect contributing many many more than our dozen or two).

    Therefore I presume that even though Bush had a substantial lead after 87 of the 88 counties had reported, the total of our 42k unreported votes, plus the potential swing due to uncounted votes in all the other 87 counties, was just enough that they couldn’t safely call it for Bush.

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  4. Richard Easton:
    Your interesting story could also apply to 2004.

    I’ll be darned, you are correct! I just confirmed by asking a colleague (with a better memory than mine) and was reminded about another (local) incident that happened during that election, and news sources confirmed that it was 2004.

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  5. Owen Wengerd:
    news sources confirmed that it was 2004.

    I watched the 2004 election returns in Montreux, Switzerland at a meeting organised by financial market guru Harry D. Schultz for some of his long-term subscribers.  As the night wore on and the networks declined to call state after state, while early returns showed Bush running ahead of his numbers from the 2000 election in most of those states, we decided to call it a night, concluding Bush was the winner.

    But, of course, what incentives do the networks have to call it early when, by prolonging the suspense, they can keep more viewers and charge more to bombard them with commercials?

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  6. John Walker:
    But, of course, what incentives do the networks have to call it early when, by prolonging the suspense, they can keep more viewers and charge more to bombard them with commercials?

    Also, if the national race is close, that helps the west coast with voter turnout, which might help any vulnerable Democrats in rural areas.  But that only works until the polls close out west.  I guess ratings and commercials is the only explanation that makes sense near midnight.

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