I honestly didn’t mean anything by it.
It was election night 2012. Barack Obama was seeking a second term while being challenged by Mitt Romney. Oregon was voting on marijuana legalization. Several Oregon congressional seats were up for grabs. And I was going to be on the air all night with the results.
I was a big part of our station’s “team coverage” of election night. We had reporters following results in the newsroom, others stationed at ballot boxes, and me, live from the Republican Party headquarters. My producers would be cutting to me many times throughout the night, where I would conduct interviews with politicians and explain how people were reacting to the results.
Because I was such an important anchor of our coverage, I wanted to look my best. So I put on my newest gray suit, a freshly pressed white shirt, and my best looking tie.
The bright blue one.
I never had a second thought about it. I looked sharp, and that was all that mattered. It never dawned on me that a blue tie might look a little out of place at a Republican event.
So there I was, reporting live in red state country wearing my blue tie. I knew something was off right away when I started to get a few sideways glances. Eventually, two older women came up to meet me and my photographers.
“You’re wearing the wrong color!” one woman said, wearing one of those smiles that seemed anything but sincere.
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“What are you wearing blue for?” the second woman asked, flailing her fingers at my tie.
“You do know this is a Republican event, right?” said the first woman. She was wearing a bright red blazer, had red nail polish, even her short-cropped hair was dyed an unnatural shade of crimson.
I get it. Red.
“It’s just a tie,” I said, exasperated.
“Oh, we’re just giving you a hard time,” red woman said. She smiled one of those phony smiles people have when they try to seem like they’re joking, but are actually deeply offended. My blue tie had cut her deep.
Such is the nature of election night; where even something as innocent as wearing a certain color tie can bring out the emotions in someone.
Election night was one of my favorite assignments as a reporter. It’s fast-paced, it’s exciting, and it matters. Best of all, it’s fun. Whether you’re stationed at a ballot box watching ballots be dropped off, or frantically clicking ‘refresh’ at 8 p.m. to see the first preliminary results, it’s a night where something is always happening.
And it’s an experience you share with your best friends: your fellow reporters. You are all required to stay late and come in early, and you bond over it.
The calm before the storm is between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., when the final ballots are dropped off. Then, it’s dead silent in the newsroom, except for the frantic click click click click click click click of every reporter trying to see the results first. It’s like newsroom Bingo, except everyone has a winning card. Whoever yells first, wins.
“The public safety levy is a ‘no,’ 56 percent!” someone might yell. “And Smith is winning the commissioner race with 67 percent!”
Everything goes into overdrive after that, as reporters rush to their phones and leap into their cars, hoping to get a hold of the candidates before all the circuits get jammed. Earlier this year, I was covering the Jackson County Sheriff’s race. When the results came in, I called and hung up and hit redial 12 times without stopping, just so I could catch leading candidate Corey Falls, whose phone was likely being blown up by calls from friends and other reporters.
You’re not just looking out for yourself, you’re helping everyone else, and everyone seems to join in that team-first mentality. Our news director always ordered several pizzas to feed hungry reporters. Sports anchors were helping to shoot interviews with politicians (by the end of the night, they would joke about it. “Well, see you in four years!”) When I was standing in the rain, attempting to do live shot next to a ballot box, an elections office worker walked over while I was on the air and held out his umbrella to keep me dry. It was one of the nicest little gestures anyone had ever done for me as a reporter and I thanked him on the air.
And when things get stressful, as time starts running out and deadlines are looming, we always pick each other up. In May’s election, Rob Scott, who is now a reporter at KXAN in Austin, Texas, sensed the mood in the room beginning to turn sour, and started making up jingles to keep people laughing.
“Life is a hashtag, I’m going to tweet it all night long…” he sang. Even the most stone-faced reporter couldn’t help feeling a little happier. All of us ended up singing those jingles on our way out the door at the end of the night.
Yes, election night can be stressful. It can be a long night with a heavy workload that carries you into the next morning. But it’s one of the most memorable experiences you get as a reporter, and it only comes once every four years. So take a deep breath and enjoy the plunge.