Vol. 23, No. 2/Winter 2001
Photo by Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post WEST PALM BEACH; 11/25/00: Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore shows signs of fatigue Saturday as the Palm Beach County election canvassing board continued to examine questionable ballots in the county Emergency Operations Center, where the hand count of all Palm Beach County ballots took place.
The Palm Beach Post Saga
The Palm Beach Post plans for elections well in advance and plans well. This year our newsroom staff went into overdrive after the 2000 presidential election and also managed to cover non-election news. Our newsroom is still covering many aspects of that election and our CAR editor is wringing her hands because the election is bumping much-needed decennial census results planning, which we coordinate with other Cox newspapers.
The Editorial Library begins election work well before the primaries. The paper has an election coverage document that details everyone’s responsibilities. This document includes what each reporter needs to request from the Editorial Library for background checks for each of their candidates. We research every single candidate for office. A permanent candidate list is maintained on our intranet with addresses and dates of birth, compiled and edited from election to election.
We had primaries, runoffs and general elections in 2000. By election night the work moves to the CAR editor. We get to eat the pizza and pick up any loose ends.
The first sign of things to come is at our 11:15 a.m. news meeting on election day when editors compared notes on the many callers who said they may have voted for Pat Buchanan. The first complaints regarding the butterfly ballot had already been coming to our Opinion people and the Metro desk.
What does our budget look like for the first week or so? Here’s the only election-related request on election day:
On the 8th we start getting curious:
Here’s some of the 9th:
Thank you Newslib - we get a copy of this late Friday night, Nov. 10th, from a Newslib subscriber:
By Saturday, the 11th:
Reporters and copy editors, focusing on a single precinct, 194D, begin calling all 2,042 registered voters. Many Buchanan votes come from this precinct. Many of the voters are elderly Jews who did not intend to vote for Pat Buchanan (whose views on Adolph Hitler are not popular in the Jewish community). The library pitched in with telephone number assistance. More than half of these people are contacted within a two day period. The story runs on November 12.
It’s December now:
Christmas is almost here:
How Did We Do It?
Our ability to access all the information we needed, mostly on flat rate accounts, was indispensable. Best flat rate sources? Lexis-Nexis, Newslibrary, flatrateinfo.com, quickinfo.net and, of course, the wonderful Florida public records sites at both the state and county level, accessible in large part due to the Florida Sunshine Law.
Our reporters scattered across the state and the country. Since we staff the library seven days a week until 10 p.m. (with the exception of Saturday, when we’re here until 8:00 p.m), we were accessible. How did we get the information out? We’re very fortunate to have multiple ways of delivering what is needed: We have our text archive available on our intranet as well as on a public web site. Reporters can access the intranet via a secure ID. They can then pick up research files on a library FTP site. We also have an excellent e-mail system that allowed us to move files anywhere, anytime.
Research questions were both simple and complex. I can’t say how many we handled because we don’t keep numbers. One of the most difficult tasks was keeping a daily count on over-votes, under-votes and total votes for each candidate. Another incredibly time-consuming task was gathering biographical information on the innumerable, heretofore obscure, judges that played such an important role in this tale. And it wasn’t just the breaking news. Many issues, old and new, converged: reliability of voting equipment, equal access to the polls, standards for conducting an election, and partisan interference in the election process. We looked at the role of election supervisors in Florida and tried to identify people brought in to Florida to disrupt recounts.
And the library staff: what excellent work! Our researchers sat on the front line. We have two full-time researchers, one part-time researcher, and me. I can float from part-time to overtime, whenever needed. PostFacts (our fee-based service to the public staffed by a full-time person) handled many incoming calls from the public and the tabloid media. And I can’t forget our photo and text archiving staff. They were deluged with graphic, tabular and photographic files. The memorable one for me is the December 1st listing of every single voting precinct, with the votes for Gore and Bush and the respective under-votes and over-votes. This became 16 individual files in our text archive!
I feel, more so than ever, that our relationship with the newsroom contributed to a research effort that was, as one of our researchers said, "Just another day." The work flowed as smoothly as could be expected, and we also fielded many, many questions from other news libraries. I feel like Theresa LePore looks. A long-awaited Thanksgiving vacation vaporized (could any of you have stayed home anyway?). I wouldn’t have missed the experience for the world and it is still happening. The Palm Beach Post has many more stories to write and publish about the 2000 presidential election.
Sammy R. Alzofon is Library Director and News Researcher at The Palm Beach Post. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.