This is the story of election day in D.C. Well, it’s my story at least. I’m not sure how it compares to anyone else’s but it was incredibly special for me, no matter what the outcome would be, or what other ways I could have spent it. This day is exactly what I came to D.C. for. I wanted to be here during election, one of the craziest days ever in the lives of reporters, and one of the most important days for citizens of the U.S. Here’s my story. Better late than never right?
The first thing you need to know is that I am an intern for the local news section of my paper. Washington has a very interesting city government, especially because it basically also acts as a state government. I have learned so much covering city hall since being here, and have found that D.C.’s city government is one of the most important in the U.S. They play a role in so many things here in Washington that people might assume are taken care of by the feds. But they also have an interesting relationship with the federal government, because, since the city gov. used to be run by Congress, the new city government, which is only a few decades old, still answers to Congress in some ways. It’s all very interesting. So that being said, my assignment on election day was to cover the election for city council members (which again, basically play the same roles as state senators). D.C.’s city government has been known to be pretty corrupt, so the council members are an interesting group, and have an interesting reputation. One of the men running to be re-elected is currently being investigated because a lot of his campaign money “disappeared.” There are also other stories even worse then that (that’s not to say there’s aren’t great, hard-working people in the city gov. that’s just what they are kind of known for at this point). So a few council members were running to be re-elected, but some new ones were trying to buck them out. It looked likely, especially because of the “corruption.” It was looking to be a tight race.
I usually go into work at the Washington Examiner at 10 a.m. every morning, but on election day, I knew I’d be out later. It was going to be a Red Bull kind of day. Instead of going into the newsroom, I went right out, around noon, to my nearest voting precinct. There, I interviewed the precinct captain and asked her how many voters they had had, if they had had any problems there, ect. We were hearing about huge lines in Virginia and Maryland that had voters waiting hours to get the job done, and wanted to know if that was happening in D.C. The polls were crazy. Apparently, that morning, the line and extended down the block from the hospital in which the voting took place, so when I went, many people were coming back for a second try. I stood outside afterward and asked people about their voting experience, and tried to take in informal exit poll to try to find out how the city hall race was looking. It was fascinating hearing about peoples’ decisions, and thing like that. Some were completely uneducated on the issues, others were very passionate. And this voting precinct was ON Capitol Hill, so that was an interesting element. There was a really cool energy in the air. D.C. is known for being predominately liberal, and huuuuuuuge supporters of Barack Obama, so it wasn’t too competitive of an atmosphere, but exciting none the less.
The next precinct I visited was downtown near the newsroom. It was in the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church to check out how voting was going there. Since it was later in the afternoon, things were getting crazy there. All over the big buildings down town there were posters saying “GO VOTE” and “OBAMA” and a man was driving around yelling at people through a megaphone who to vote for, and I just can’t tell you how buzzed everything was. It’s quite something to observe democracy in such a simple form like that, with people being excited to do their civic duty. This is so cheesy but I felt so proud of everyone. I could have sat there all day and watched all the people going in and out. One person in particular I want to point out was a German man who was taking pictures of the voting signs and the colorful balloons and everything. He said he thought that the American elections were exciting but was confused as to why we would hold them on a Tuesday. Apparently they are always done on Sunday in Germany, so people who work can’t have an excuse to not go. Just an interesting tidbit.
So then began the waiting game. I walked back to the office and compiled my notes and interviews with those of another reporter who did the same thing all morning, and we put an afternoon story online. My next task would be to go to the DC Board of Elections in the evening to be there while the votes were counted and to get the counts the very minute they were completed. I would then text/e-mail the info to my editors. So I waited around in the news room all evening until the polls closed at 8 p.m. I pretty much spent three hours watching my Twitter feed and trying to keep up with the national voting and stories as best I could. I was so happy to have that free time. It was amazing to follow it all as it unfolded. I seriously love Twitter. If you don’t have it, you should get it ASAP. And follow me, @abbyhamblin. Anyway, the buzz in the newsroom was insane. There was this total “all hands on deck” vibe going on and it was amazing. There was about an hour there where there wasn’t much to be done, and people were just kind of talking about different scenarios the night could bring. There was sooooo much coffee and Mountain Dew drinking. These are some of the most educated people on not only local but national politics, so it was amazing to hear their opinions and their experiences reporting. I may never have an opportunity like that, or be among people with that level or knowledge or insight on elections as those people ever again, so I am insanely grateful I was able to experience that. I should also mention that the editors bought a bunch of food from Pot Belly’s so that was delicious and much appreciated. Everyone was working major over time, and it helped us all get a second wind.
It was crazy how I felt like i was on a mission when 7:15 rolled around. I was the only one from the Examiner that was going over to where the voting results would be coming in. I got on the metro and prayed the whole time for our country, for our government, and for the job I was about to do. I was really scared I would mess up! They were putting a ton of trust in me! I got off the metro at “Judiciary Square” and headed up to the DCBOE floor of the building at 1 Judiciary Square. It was pretty quiet there, but when I got up to the press room, I saw one of the reporters from the Washington Times that I had run into at a couple city hall meetings and asked starting talking with him. I was so happy that he was able to tell me how things would go down and give me some advice. That was really nice to him. Then he told me we could go downstairs where they were starting to count the early voter ballots. THAT was crazy. This is what I saw:
There was this precious older lady named Dorothy down there and she works for an organization called WatchDC I think. They keep tabs on city hall and make sure they are doing a good job and stuff like that. Well, she had been around the voting process for years, and gave me a really good education on how it all works. She was so kind and I <3 her. She is also a fireball. So when the first official ballots from election day we said to be coming in, she just blew through a bunch of doors and took me and one other newbie reporter out back to where they were coming in. It was amazing. A police escort rolled up and there was soooooo much security and I couldn’t believe I was watching the exact votes that would decide who would become the President of the United States would be come in to be counted. I will never forget that.
So it was getting really close to 8 p.m. after that and I needed to go back up to the press room, where they would be passing out results as they were coming in. They were also putting them on their website, but we were able to get them to our editors that way just a little before they went online I think. It was insane. They would come in with a print off from a group of the percents and all the reporters would go crazy trying to type them up or call them into their editors. I thought my head was going to explode from all the caffeine I had that day, and I was going cross-eyed trying to read all the numbers. It was was all just little black and white data that we had to skim through to find out what we wanted. (I should mention that the votes for president were on there too, which was insane, but I was just focused on city hall.) So I would texted them as fast as I possibly could to the editors. I can’t tell you how important or pressured it all felt, but I wanted to do the best job possible so I was really focused. I haven’t felt that sort of intensity since high school basketball haha!
Also while I was texting the data too my editors, I had accumulated a bunch of followers on Twitter from people referring their followers to me for election results. So that was a big deal. Here’s a look at my Twitter feed. I’m telling you, I was going nuts. (For non-Twitter users who don’t know, the oldest tweets start at the bottom).
I should also mention that meanwhile, I was trying to keep up with the results coming in nationally, because obviously I wanted to know who was going to win for president. Twitter was going berserk, of course, so that was fun. And friends and family were texting me too, so my phone was blowing up. I was all hunched over like a crazy scientist with my phone for about four hours straight. But now I should mention the waiting game. I should note that the Examiner, along with the papers that most of the other reporters in the press room were working for, had a print deadline of about 11:30 p.m. We can put as much as we want online, but obviously we want complete information for the next morning’s paper. So that deadline was crashing down on all of us while we waited for results. And it was SUCH a tease because the results were flowing in in chunks of about 25 precincts, every 45 minutes. I was DESPERATE for the next batch of data, but just had to sit there going crazy like everyone else. I’m getting worked up just typing this out and thinking about how that all felt. I’m writing this pretty fast, but I hope it’s all coming across as well as I hope it is.
I don’t even know what time it was when I got done there. Somewhere around midnight I think. But the good news is that I didn’t mess up and my editors were really happy with me! It was such a great feeling! I felt so accomplished! It was some of the most important work I have ever done, and I loved being a part of it! I could barely tell what was going on in the outside world, so I spent an extra twenty minutes after I was allowed to leave catching up on Twitter. I found out Obama won and knew thousands were headed to the White House to celebrate. SO OF COURSE I WENT THERE! If you check out the photo at the top, you can see just how crazy the atmosphere was. I’ll do my best to put it into words.
First, I had to walk there. It was too late for the metro to be running and I didn’t want to waste any time figuring out bussing, so I just headed out by foot. THAT was a great decision, because the streets were so high-energy. People were honking non-stop, and there were hundreds of young people outside on every block. People were SO HAPPY. I haven’t experienced something like that in awhile. My only personal experience of that large of a group of people full of genuine joy for a moment in time like that might have been high school graduation. People were hanging out their car windows, screaming “FOUR MORE YEARS,” hugging strangers, blasting music, clapping, blowing whistles, high-fiving, dancing around, and so much more. With every block the buzz grew, until I made it to the White House. It was PACKED. People were shoulder to shoulder singing patriotic songs (the national anthem again and again) and chanting “FOUR MORE YEARS” and “U.S.A!” It was incredible. People were climbing the statues and trees and hugging and screaming. I can barely describe it. Someone brought out these cut outs of the president and first lady and people lost it:
Here’s a look at my Twitter feed as I was getting crushed by patriots:
I wanted to stay out there all night but I was exhausted. I didn’t get home til 2:30 a.m. I stayed up to watch Obama give his acceptance speech and all the other interns in my house were watching and it was still such a cool vibe. I have gone on far too long describing this, but I just wanted to get it all out. I hope this explanation gets across what an incredible experience I had. I’ll never forget Nov. 6, 2012.