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Election eve hectic in newsroom

November 11, 2002|BY LIZ THOMPSON

The newsroom is a very quiet, subdued place early in the evening of an election.

For several hours after the polls close, there isn't much reporters and editors can do on those stories and pages dealing with election coverage. We have to wait for the all-important numbers.

But when those numbers come the tempo picks up dramatically, and for three hours or so before deadline arrives the newsroom is in full swing. Reporters come in from the election offices and start calling out results even as they sit down to finish stories. Editors need to know the results so final story placement decisions can be made.

Vote totals are given to editors who plug them into charts that have been prepared and are ready to be placed on the correct page along with the completed stories.

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It seems chaotic for those few hours, but it really is more organized than it looks.

Last Tuesday, weeks of planning came together to produce the Wednesday morning and afternoon newspapers that gave our readers the complete - though, at the time, still unofficial - results of elections in Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

It was no small task.

Our goal is to provide all the information we can about local races and those state and national races we believe are of interest to our readers. We extended our deadline on election night by 45 minutes to allow more time to get final election totals.

Normally, front page stories are selected at 5 p.m. On election night, we wait to decide.

We always try to anticipate the outcome of any election, but we know that voters, like juries, are not predictable. Political pundits and journalists are wise to expect the unexpected.

We did select two of the five stories that would be placed on the front page. Regardless of the outcomes, we knew the Washington County Commissioners' race and the Maryland governor's race would run on the front page.

As reporters arrived back from the Washington County Election Board office about 10 p.m., we learned that two incumbent county commissioners had lost and Maryland's speaker of the house was in serious trouble. We quickly decided the House of Delegates race between Speaker Casper Taylor and challenger LeRoy Myers would move from an inside page to our front page.

Looking at the election results, we made the decision to put the state Senate race between incumbent Alex Mooney and challenger and House of Delegates member Sue Hecht on the front page as well. While Senate District 3 represents just a small sliver of Washington County, there had been much interest in the most expensive Senate race in the state.

Finally, we decided to place the controversy surrounding a petition drive at polling places on the front as well. Members of the Landlords and Property Owners Association of Washington County had sought and received permission from the Election Board to go inside the polling places to ask people to sign a petition opposing a new rental registration ordinance.

When voters complained, the Election Board sent word to the polls that the petitioners would have to move outside.

With the Page 1 stories decided, we focused on getting those and other stories completed, the numbers plugged into charts and the stories placed on the designated pages. The minutes go fast when you're racing the clock.

It's worth it in the end. On Wednesday morning, our readers had a comprehensive look at the elections in the Tri-State area.

Liz Thompson is city editor at The Herald-Mail. She can be contacted at 301-733-5131, extension 7682, or by e-mail at lizt@herald-mail.com.

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