Erku column: Election month, Day 1 — rethinking the expectations of election reporting

Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky was pretty mum until tallies were more definite. 

State Rep. Perry Will, bellied up to that nice, classy Hotel Colorado bar sipping a Bud Light, graciously gave some on-record dialogue but still acknowledged that things could change. His challenger, Democrat Elizabeth Velasco, was across the Colorado River, receiving celebratory hugs at Bluebird Cafe as if it were already a lock.

U.S. Congresswoman Lauren Boebert didn’t join the watch party in Glenwood Springs. Instead, just before preliminary results showed her trailing Frisch by nearly 7,000 votes at 11:15 p.m. Tuesday, she was surfing a prematurely predicted “Red Wave” at Warehouse25sixty-five Kitchen + Bar in Grand Junction.

Seems as though every reporter, from the Denver Post to the New York Times, tried valiantly throughout this godforsaken general election death march to harvest comments from Boebert. I myself received a text from her on Thursday morning saying she’s too busy to chit-chat because she was supposedly tied up in meetings in D.C.

The great B.B. King used to headline Aspen’s Belly Up. Congressional District 3 Democratic challenger Adam Frisch was there Tuesday evening for his watch party when he told the Aspen Times “we’re not going to get over our skis” but that the race will come down to “a couple hundred votes anyway.”

Perhaps it’s the elevation, but past elections in these breathtaking valleys of ours have mirrored the sweat-filled, strangulating treachery of today. 

Races are too close to call in one day. Inquiries from campaign managers and reporters over ballot counts bombard county clerks’ offices. Newsrooms inherently grow nocturnal, hopped up on potent coffee while they frantically attempt to hit midnight deadlines.

Next time you see an election judge, be sure to hug them and take them out to a nice steak dinner. The Colorado Sun reported this past week some of these poor souls at one point spent 18 consecutive hours counting ballots. Meanwhile, tally takers say all results won’t be entirely counted until at least Nov. 16.

All this election madness calls for a slight lobotomy. Not necessarily in the way we run elections but in the way we advertise and treat elections. Here’s how:

  1. The term “election day” is practically a misnomer. The powers that be should call it election week, maybe even election month, and Tuesday itself should collectively be referred to as “Day 1.” The results reveal day shall henceforth be referred to as “Judgement Day.”
  2. Watch parties are held too damn early. Any politicians caught having a watch party less than a week after Day 1 — in other words having a party on election days 1-7 — will be required to ride down Sunlight Mountain on one ski only, blindfolded.

Seriously, it’s a lopsided, empty feeling boasting over results in one race when another is on razor’s edge and every news editor from here to Timbuktu is nearly suffering an aneurysm over timely coverage. 

No matter the stage. No matter the race. All results should be kept under safe lock until every single race is finished and the numbers are indeed officially final. 

Do you know how much time, energy and money this would save? You know how many less phone calls and emails that is? I could actually go back to salivating over Avs games on TV and annoying my girlfriend, successfully and uninterrupted.

I know what you’re thinking. But what about transparency, Ray? Don’t we need results updated every five minutes in the name of accountability? 

Thanks for asking. Let us not underestimate the power of auditing our own work if any red flags were to arise. Bam. Transparency saved. Process expedited. Problem solved.

Still not on board? Look at it this way:

When I didn’t make my freshman basketball team many moons ago, coaches handed every player a card after the very last day of tryouts. On that card it revealed whether you made the team. This meant everyone knew at the same exact time whether their jumpshot was garbage or highly desired. This also meant the coaches had ample time to consciously and democratically determine that I shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a basketball court.

Election races should be treated in the same spirit. Once all election results are final, they’ll be announced the same way as the Colorado Powerball. This will be done, like I said, on Judgement Day. The whole thing won’t take more than eight minutes, as opposed to eight long, beleaguered days. 

Need I say again. Only release all results when every single race is actually fully counted and over with. That way, everyone knows simultaneously whether they made the team and their political jumpshot is needed in Congress, county commission, wherever. 

Watch parties will be more uniform. Scheduling will make more sense. Like a new fad, reporters will actually reserve vacation time in November. 

Most importantly, county clerks and ballot counters, overworked to the bone, can perhaps loosen the vice.

Ray Erku is the western Garfield County reporter and assistant editor for the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and Citizen Telegram in Rifle.

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