Election nights have changed…for the better?

Posted 11/16/22

There’s nothing like the hype of election night.

It wasn’t what it used to be last Tuesday as the media went through what seemed like an endless period for Allan Fung to appear at …

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Election nights have changed…for the better?


There’s nothing like the hype of election night.

It wasn’t what it used to be last Tuesday as the media went through what seemed like an endless period for Allan Fung to appear at the Twin Oaks restaurant in his bid for the Second Congressional District. Television, newspaper and radio reporters, who had been glued to their smart phones and watched Fung’s early lead evaporate knew the outcome. What they wanted was to hear Fung and put the story to bed.

It sounds like a heartless finale to a hard fought campaign by both sides. Fung and Seth Magaziner each invested of millions of dollars and countless hours of strategizing, meeting the voters, weighing the options of where to be and who to listen to – and maybe not listen to.

In the end it came down to numbers.

It’s always been that way although the means of tallying the numbers has changed dramatically.

Turning back the clock to a time before the internet, cell phones and high speed computers, the Board of Canvassers was the place to be for the most reliable results on election night. But getting the numbers took time and candidates weren’t in the mood to wait. They had runners who staked out polling locations and then took down precinct results as they were read off by poll workers machine by machine. They would either hoof it over to campaign headquarters or phone in results.

The media also had people at the polls gleaning the numbers.

If I was lucky, I was admitted to the “back room” at headquarters where one or more campaign volunteers worked adding machines with the anxious candidate hanging over their shoulders. Information came in spurts as ward and district totals were completed. After being scrutinized in the back room, the numbers would be posted on a tote board in front of supporters, who depending on the news, cheered excitedly or cracked open another beer. News of a candidate’s victory or loss would be known at headquarters before the Board of Canvassers tallied results.

Candidates and political parties know their bases of support and when they didn’t deliver they know it would be tough to win. I saw that in the early returns in the race between independent Frank Picozzi and incumbent Mayor Joseph Solomon. Picozzi didn’t have a machine, but the old time method of posting the numbers was there, albeit they came from cell phones and data uploaded to the internet by the Board of Elections. A handful of supporters, largely Picozzi family members, could see the big picture as an excited former mayor Scott Avedisian posted the numbers. The candidate looked stunned.

Those nights before minute-by-minute updates were available on the internet are long gone.

There was no tote board at the Twin Oaks. Reporters compared numbers and waited to capture that moment when the candidate would either greet a cheering crowd or solemnly tell supporters they mounted a good fight and thank them for their efforts.

One of the more recent memorable election nights was spent at the Oaklawn Grange in Cranston waiting for the outcome of the 2016 District 15 race between House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Republican challenger Steven Frias. Neither Mattiello nor any of his key campaign aides were to be seen at the grange hall and the news media gravitated to the incomplete numbers being released by the state Board of Elections. Those results gave Frias the win by a thin margin. Yet no one was calling the election. As the night wore on, Mattiello supporters – who were as much in the dark as reporters – assumed the lack of their candidate meant a loss.

Therefore, when Mattiello with aides as his side arrived there was an eerie silence. Mattiello started talking about mail ballots, but the message wasn’t clear.

Reporters didn’t know what to make of it.

“Did you win?” he was asked.

In a low voice, hardly the tone one would expect from a victor, Mattiello acknowledged he was behind in the machine vote, but the mail ballots would put him over the top. It was election night, reporters were in a rush. They had their story. Of course, the question was, how could Mattiello be so sure of the mail ballot tally?

It was a question that resulted in even more stories, but Mattiello was right. He was the winner.

In some ways I miss those days when results weren’t instantly available on your phone. There was intrigue and gaining access to the “back room” gave insight to the candidate and his or her inner circle. The elation of a win or agony of defeat is no less poignant.

The finality of a campaign is that more abrupt. Maybe it’s best that way, if indeed, candidates accept the voice of the voting public and the winners go on to fulfill all their promises. 


Side-up, editorial


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