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The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO
  • That's What I Think: Tweeting election results on a tiny phone

  • I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, for I am old and we elderly tend to repeat ourselves: Elections just aren’t what they used to be, especially covering them.
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  • I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, for I am old and we elderly tend to repeat ourselves: Elections just aren’t what they used to be, especially covering them.
    It seems like just a few years ago, but back in the late Seventies in the previous century when I started covering elections for a newspaper, I stood in the hallway of the Lawrence County Courthouse in Mount Vernon and waited for a deputy clerk to come out of the county clerk’s office to write down the precinct totals on a big wall chart.
    Tuesday, we voted on paper ballots, almost like we did back in those primitive days. Instead of connecting a line, back in those days, we put an X in a box next to the name of the person we supported or next to the “yes” or “no” on a tax issue. Then people, not optical scanners, would have to go through those ballots, look at each one and count the votes. Boy, howdy, what a chore that must have been.
    I think they counted throughout the day. Well, I know they did, for you could drive around from precinct to precinct and find out in the middle of the afternoon who was leading. They had to count and get a head start; otherwise, they wouldn’t have the totals on election night so we inkslingers could get our stories into print.
    When I moved here in the early Eighties, I was content to let reporters go to the courthouse while I hung around the newsroom waiting for the totals. I would build a grid for a chart, using the primitive tools available to me in those pre-computer days. Then when reporter Andrew Careaga would return from the courthouse with the results, we would all get down to the business of calling the winners and the losers and getting their thoughts.
    That brings to mind a story: One time there was a young attorney who came to town and decided to challenge Joanne Mayberry for municipal judge. Well, she whipped him good. I called the young feller up and, in fact, woke him up. He was apparently so confident in victory that he went on to bed, I guess expecting to be the judge. After waking him up, I informed him of the vote totals and that his number was the smaller one. “Wow,” he said. “She cleaned my clock.” I agreed with him, and I quoted him in the paper the next day.
    That’s the kind of fun we had on election night in those days. Plus, the boss would make sure we had pizza or fried chicken or something good to eat. Once he brought us steaks.
    Page 2 of 3 - I once went with Andrew Careaga over to the courthouse to experience Phelps County elections. That was back when the Old Courthouse was the Only Courthouse. The office of County Clerk Lucie Smith was crowded, and there we two newspapermen, plus the radio reporters (three radio stations in town back in those days had reporters who cared about news coverage) took up some significant space. It was some fun.
    In the New Courthouse, Phelps County Clerk Carol Bennett provided us with a media table and a telephone. Andrew Careaga by that time had gone into public relations, a more highly thought of profession than reporting, but he came back a few elections as a freelancer for a national surveying company that tracked election data for big-time news media.
    There were radio reporters there, too, and one of the deputy clerks would run copies of precinct totals over to us. In between reports, we’d sit there and talk about the campaigns we’d just covered, as well as other important journalistic stuff. It was mighty fun, mighty fun.
    At the courthouse Tuesday night, the only reporters were just me and Lee Buhr, as far as I could tell, and we didn’t talk to one another. We were too busy. Computers have shortened the time so much that the precinct counting is done quickly.
    To try to add some interest to the night for myself, I used my primitive Pantech AT&T Not-smartphone to tweet some results on Twitter. Yes, you read that right. I “tweet” on Twitter.
    My tweets are not official Rolla Daily News tweets. I tweet on my personal account, and if you like a little common sense and a whole lot of nonsense I invite you to “follow” me at www.twitter.com/ozarksboy.
    I started off with a tweet about the absentees, then started reporting the results of the mayor’s race and Prop A. I managed to get in one tweet about the school board.
    It wasn’t easy because the keyboard on that telephone is the size of a matchbook and the keys are way too small for my sausage fingers. I persisted, though.
    My test tweet was this: “Polls closed at 7. l went home and put on a pot of beans to cook overnight. Now at courthouse.”
    Then I followed up with this: “First precinct has arrived for counting.”
    The staff ran out the absentee ballot totals while the first precinct was being processed.
    “Absentee ballots showed Prop A with 120 no and 84 yes,” I informed my Twitter followers, what few of them there are.
    Then the precincts started coming in fast and furious, so to speak, and I started rapidly tweeting while trying to add up totals.
    Page 3 of 3 - “Rolla Ward 5 was first in. Eudaly 118 leads. Prop A is 102 yes and 185 no,” I reported breathlessly.
    Minutes later, it seemed, I was back on my phone typing this, to let my followers know which mayoral candidate came in first: “Ward 6 Eudaly 48 Prop A 48 yes 61 no.”
    Shortly after that with the help of a pen and paper I managed to tweet out this: “Two precincts and absentees: Eudaly 258; Leonard 128; Magdits 203.”
    I’m not sure when but later I discovered that Andrew Careaga, still the main PR guy up at the university and an avid user of Twitter, was monitoring and he sent this out to his many, many followers: “Anyone interested in Rolla election results, check @ozarksboy's Twitter stream. He's live-tweeting results by precinct.”
    Well, that was kind of right. I was struggling on my phone to get out a few results, but I appreciate Andrew’s noticing.
    My next report was: “So far Prop A 501 yes; 660 no.”
    Then in rapid succession:
    • “Rolla Ward 3 Prop A 284 yes; 282 no.”
    • “Prop A is 692 yes and 799 no. I think.”
    • “4 of 6 Rolla precincts counted.”
    And then the last two precincts came in—bam, bam—and the finals were quickly available:
    I sent out my last three tweets (we’d call them dispatches in the old days):
    • “Finals Mayor Lou Magdits 1083 Eudaly 985 Leonard 493.”
    • “Final Prop A 1254 yes; 1356 no.”
    • “Rolla School Board Phelps final Froelich 2194 Southard 1676 Haskell 2513 Strassner 2095 doubt other counties will change outcome.”
    I waited around and got the other school districts’ totals, thanks to Christine Grayson Gulley of the clerk’s staff, then headed back to the paper office to call people and write a story.
    Our deadline is early, so we took the time to call only the winners in each race. In the old days, as I said, we called everybody.
    Eddie O’Neill, Jim Brock, Dave Roberts and I worked on getting the stories together and the totals in print, and we weren’t too late getting to the press. Editor Paul Hackbarth was ill all day, so he missed all the fun. He’ll have to wait until the August primary.
    I love elections. They make me feel, perhaps erroneously, that my one voice counts. I especially like casting a ballot, and I hope you voted. Heck, I hope you knew there was an election.
    As I tweeted earlier in the day: “I confess that voting makes me feel superior, especially to the morons who say ‘I didn't even know there was an election today.’ ”
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