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  THE BIG BLACK TABLE ELECTION STORY.  
   
   
 

The Black Table woke up way too early this morning to be the millionth news organization to cover this election. Our reporters, based all across the country, have been filing reports from the "field" -- that's what they call it in the MEDIA! -- all day and all night. Here's what's going on. Check back all night for constant updates. Hell, we know you're not sleeping either.

6 a.m.

At Public School 261 in Brooklyn, N.Y., polling place for residents of the Boerum Hill neighborhood, a line that spans through the building and down the block has already formed … and the polls haven't even opened yet. At the previous three elections-all primaries-here, there has never been a single line; the school was so sparsely populated, the volunteers looked they wanted to hug you and ask about your family. Not today. Even though New York is not a swing state -- in fact, New York City doesn't have a single close race to vote on -- it seems like the lines will be like this all day.

One of the polling booths -- a pull-the-lever contraption that makes sounds similar to a 17th Century torture device -- is broken, and a young woman complains to a policeman nearby that her vote didn't count. He touches her lightly on the shoulder and says, "Ma'am, it was counted, I promise," and she frowns and stomps off. At a nearby booth, a late-twenties-aged woman steps out of the booth, where her friend is waiting. They high-five, and with a huge smile, she yells, "Your turn! Yeah!"

Matters are less ebullient on the Upper West Side. Julie Keller, a med school student at Columbia University, was one of the first voters at P.S. 9. In the school's cafeteria Keller waited to cast her vote at 5:45, decked out in scrubs and already late for her shift at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. It wasn't until 6:05 that Keller, first in line, got into the booth. Within seconds her head popped back out from behind the curtain, "Umm, shouldn't I be able to pull the lever?" she asked the volunteer, who responded with a look that seemed to say, "Oh dear." After checking the plug and circling the booth twice to check for election day voodoo, the volunteer realized the seal allowing the booth to be operated hadn't been broken. Keller ducked back in. As Keller voted, the volunteer at the booth realized her colleague was filling out the voter cards incorrectly. Keller emerged from the booth, a look of relief on her face. A man next to her had less luck. He stomped off, shaking his head and looking disgusted. "They don't have my name on the list," he said angrily. "Looks like I'm not going to vote today."

In Boston's Copley Square, site of what supporters hope will be the victorious rally for John Kerry tonight, a gaggle of freezing, tired journalists waits to be handed out press credentials, shabbily constructed 3-by-6 pieces of postcard-weight paper with a single hole in the top and a piece of string. A female Al-Jazeera reporter is obsessively filmed by every television camera and answers surely far more questions than she will ask during the evening.

7 a.m.

A tussle in Hell's Kitchen! At the 36th Street and Eighth Avenue polling place in Manhattan, two election volunteers are yelling at each other as an endless line of voters waits.

"This desk is so messy!" one screams.

"Well, perhaps this is not the best time to worry about it," the other barks.

"I can't work under these conditions!" the woman yells, banging the table with her fist.

After much rustling of papers and annoyed glares from perpetually late New Yorkers, the desk was cleared and the line continued moving, glacially.

Meanwhile, in decidedly more battleground Michigan, outside the District 24 Plymouth-Canton high school polling place in Canton, a man holding a "Robocop/Predator = Awesome Party '04" sign mingles with decidedly less bemused activists. People are tearing down each other's signs in plain sight of everyone else, and one man, screaming that he was a "conscientious objector," ripped up every Bush sign he could see. Two elderly ladies tried to restrain him; being old ladies, they had little success.

Matters are calmer in even more up-for-grabs Ohio. At the Whetstone High School polling station in Columbus, voters walk past the official PTA bake sale table with thoughts of aggressive vote challenges, incensed citizens and general mayhem. But it's quiet, with three elderly women (the old-ladyishly named Margaret, Mary and Ruth) checking voters' address and giving them little "I voted" stickers. The only sign of Ohio's importance is the MoveOn PAC station in front of the school, which is staffed not by militant leftists but by locals, desperately hoping Ohio doesn't turn into Florida.

8 a.m.

At The New York Times offices in midtown Manhattan, a Latino man stands outside, smoking a cigarette, wearing a Bush sticker and handing out pamphlets for Emily Csendes, a Republican candidate for New York State Senate. Among her attributes, the leaflet lists the Harlem schoolteacher as having "missed only three days of school last year for strep throat." Her opponent, however, "is just another Albany politician." The man is asked why he has chosen the offices of the allegedly liberal NYT to pass out the pamphlets. "You have to convince the press before you can convince the people," he says.

According to a major network source, the following conversation occurred around 8:45 a.m. This is verbatim from an internal network memo:

Karl Rove joked with reporters outside the polling station in Crawford, Texas this morning as the president was casting his vote. With his cell phone to his ear he pretended to carry on a conversation with RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie, speaking in a loud voice for the benefit of reporters. Here is the "conversation:"

08:40:53
"Great news Ed Gillespie Chairman of the Republican National Committee."

08:40:58
"Unbelievably good news, thank you."

08:41:03
"Really Ed? That's what you're hearing from the key battleground states? Republican areas are turning out in huge numbers all across the country?"

08:41:17
"Chairman Gillespie you have done a fabulous job in getting out the Republican vote. Keep it up."

9 a.m.

The elderly man in the light blue shirt, green tie and plaid jacket shuffles into the voting booth at the Little Italy Seniors Center in lower Manhattan, turns his head and chuckles, "Wish me luck." Ten minutes pass. A concerned election official ducks his head between the curtains and asks if he's having any problems. "I think I broke the election," the man says wearily, prompting the crush of people in the room to groan audibly. "Now, now. Let's see here," the official says. "You move the lever like this and flip the tabs and... Uh, I think this might be broken." Five minutes pass, filled with panicked stares, flipped switches and loud clanking noises. "I think we might have it," says the harried official. "Try to vote now." And with one loud, satisfying KA-THONK, the election is saved and the crowd of voters cheers.

10 a.m.

Ah, Florida. Where would we be without you? But why, Florida, why have you been so calm so far? Don't you know you're Florida? Aren't you supposed to having some chaotic fun?

In Palm Beach County -- you might remember vague headlines from the past -- everything seems to be going relatively to plan, unless, of course, the plan was complete disorder, which is certainly possible. The only issue around 10:30? A woman voted and then left the booth. She stopped and realized that she had an absentee ballot in her car. When she told an election official, they made her go get it and tear it up in front of them. Interestingly, the voting machines have no curtains, just extensions on the sides so no one can see the touch-screen voting. On the inside of these extensions were directions for voting machine use in English and Spanish.

As for the touch-screen voting, according to retiree (and official Black Table mother) Margee Gallagher:

You have to hit the whole circle with the pad of your finger. You can hit "next" or "go back" if you want to change your votes. At the end, you get a summary on the screen of your votes, and you can change anything you want. When you're finished, it says, "Cast your ballot." Once you hit that, a little card pops out. You bring the activation card back to the election officials so they can pass it on to the next voter. A paper receipt is coming out of the back of the computer, a hard copy for counting purposes. I don't see how anyone could have a problem with it.

And turnout? "It's just like four years ago, except more crowded," says retireee (and official Black Table father) Mike Gallagher.

11 a.m.

Word comes in from New Hampshire, the only East Coast battleground state (unless you count Florida, and who ever counts Florida?): The Upper Valley/Dartmouth Democratic organizers, coming into Tuesday, had pegged 5,000 as the number of voters they wanted to register all day. By 11 a.m. on Election Day, they already had more than 3,000 registered … and the afternoon and evening has traditionally been the group's peak registration time. It's the type of news that bodes well for John Kerry. In fact, turnout seems to be the main story of the day so far nationwide … and that's even better news for Kerry.

Web site roundup! Beyonce Knowles leaned over during a CD signing session in London. It appears Salon is behind on its bills again: The site, which was so invaluable during the 2000 election, hasn't loaded for the past two hours. And indie rock news source Pitchfork Media took down their whole site today, instead running a plea for "U.S. readers" to vote: Pitchforkmedia.com.

Noon

Attention DuPage County Republicans with names ending in A-G: Where are you? DuPage County, a heavily Republican district near Chicago that boasts Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and noted Clinton-hater Rep. Henry Hyde (neither was opposed in this year's election), apparently boasts few Andersons, Browns and Franklins. During a half-hour wait to vote in the district, the lines for H-O and P-X where 40 strong outside the door. A-G? Two people.

Canton, Mich., might have been a madhouse, but in Detroit suburb Garden City, matters are quiet. A Kerry volunteer was dispatched to the Garden City Middle School to "oversee" and "keep an eye on" a Republican voter registration challenger. But the challenger never showed up. In fact, no Republicans showed up. It was just a bunch of MoveOn volunteers looking around aimlessly, helping old ladies to the polls.

Even though everyone knows who will win California, they're still voting in Hollywood. Unfortunately, because it's not a swing state, security is decidedly more lax than in Florida, Ohio or Pennsylvania. There were no ID checks at the voter rolls at the Seniors Center on Fountain Avenue, and there were few staffers to help the numerous people who came to the wrong place. Plus, one could easily read the names of all voters on the rolls and note that few names had been checked off. But then again, it's California.

1 p.m.

Time for an Ohio weather report: Biblical. In Columbus, it's non-stop rainstorms with intermittent hail. That's right: Hail. With voter turnout key to the success of John Kerry, MoveOn has reportedly instructed its volunteers to set up booths to challenge any locusts, boils, livestock disease or frogs falling from the sky.

Disturbing news from Milwaukee: An election observer reports that the tires were slashed on a van with Bush/Cheney '04 decals that was scheduled to bring "upwards of 30" GOP voters to the polls. For the first time in recent memory, Karl Rove's protests of innocence are completely plausible.

It's almost 2 p.m. Where are the exit polls? What's taking you people so long?

2 p.m.

Holy cow. The first exit polls are in -- BIG ups to Ana Marie Cox at Wonkette.com, by the way, which scooped the Drudge Report and everybody else to get them -- and it is fantastic news for John Kerry.

The exit polls show Kerry with rather enormous leads in Pennsylvania, Minnesota and New Hampshire, three key battleground states. Bush has big leads in Arizona and Louisiana, states he would certainly be expected to take. But Kerry, according to the exit polls, has leads in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, Michigan and New Mexico, with a tie in Iowa. If everything else in the race held to form, and these exit polls are correct, the final electoral vote count would be Kerry 304, Bush 227 (not counting Iowa). That might not be an earth-shattering blowout … but it's about as close as we would get to one.

For those journalists who dare looks at these exit polls -- let alone, lo, actually show them to anyone -- there will be the normal amount of skepticism, and rightly so, considering that 2000 quagmire. But up until 2000, exit polls were considered almost foolproof … because, until 2000, they were. And, supposedly, exit polls have been improved since that mess. So no, these aren't final results, and this could end up a big mess, especially considering different sites have different numbers and they change all the time. (Hell, the numbers could be completely fake, though we're inclined to trust Wonkette.) But numbers like that cannot be denied, not this late in the game.

This being the Web, of course, within minutes of posting the numbers, Cox backpeddled, implying that her "skittish" source might not always be "trustworthy." So we'll keep counting. False alarm? We'll see.

3 p.m.

A Republican, diligently fair election official at Coonley Elementary School in a very Democratic part of Chicago, has spent most of the day informing voters that they cannot wear their Kerry/Edwards buttons into the polling place. This is election law, has been since the beginning of the Republic, but still, the voters have been crying foul. One even yelled, "You're violating my Fifth Amendment rights!" The Fifth Amendment upholds the right of individuals to not incriminate themselves. So, in fact, the official was <EM>upholding</EM> their rights.

Pastry is flying across Wayne, Mich. Two middle-aged women, believed to be on opposite sides of the political spectrum, were cited by police for fighting in the parking lot outside their polling place, right next to a bake sale sponsored by the local PTA. Witnesses say a table of cakes and donuts was recklessly, ruthlessly toppled.

4 p.m.

An anecdote from Aurora, Illinois: A local reporter registered to vote six weeks ago and never received his voter registration card, which is hardly unusual. When he went to vote, however, blue-haired ladies pulled this young man to the side and forced him to accept one of those provisional ballots, also not terribly unusual. When he completed his ballot, though, the woman then read his vote to the watching crowd of voters in line, the judges, the whole naked world.

Back in Boston's Copley Square, at the media center, matters are getting nutty. Several journalists are finding that their decision to sleep late was not rewarded. What was this morning a smattering of bleary-eyed foreign reporters asking the sole desk attendant of the Fairmont Copley Plaza if they were in the right place became a chaotic lobby overrun with guides in red windbreakers, guys sitting on the floor next to piles of camera equipment and paper signs and arrows taped to easels and walls. And a bunch of journalists who didn't get up early standing in line, looking surly.

The whole atmosphere? Well, someone has been leaking those exit polls: It feels more like people are preparing for a victory party than they are a concession speech. But it's subdued: Nobody is going to get ahead of themselves. This is a city of Red Sox fans after all. Of course …

5 p.m.

In Pontiac, Mich., police have taken away two Republican voter challengers. According to eyewitnesses, the challengers were "getting in people's faces" and "following them out to their cars." Later, the two men were allowed to return to the polling place.

In Boston, six people march by, single-file, holding up red, white and blue "Vote '04" signs. They are wearing masks that don't look immediately like either candidate's; it turns out they say "Vote Chucky '04," and they were all wearing cardboard masks of the killer movie doll. It's never the wrong time for movie promotion.

6 p.m.

According to a Washington source, the exit polls that the media supposedly uses as "guidelines" are taking them very seriously. The source says that CNN's White House correspondent John King has told CNN producers that he will not be coming to the President's planned victory speech at Reagan Center down the street from the White House … because he doesn't think there will be one.

(A call to CNN for comment -- not surprisingly, since we're a dopey Web site no one's heard of -- was not returned.)

Will this be a 2000 example of CNN (and everybody else) getting ahead of themselves? We shall see. But there is a buzz in the air among everyone who has seen the exit polls: Kerry might just pull this off.

7 p.m.

For residents on the eastern edge of Hollywood, the
"Church" of Scientology World Headquarters serves as a major
polling place. While most people would never freely choose to
turn off Sunset Blvd. and venture down L. Ron Hubbard Way, the
election is bringing them out in droves.

Fortunately, the Scientologists have demonstrated
remarkable restraint by not trying to tap into the minds and
wallets of those flocking through the doors. No "Mood
Testers" have been set up, and nobody dressed like an Air Force
Colonel has been trying to take surveys or offering free
"Personality Tests." The voting booths are out in the open
safety of the front lobby. No secret chambers are
passed to place a vote. Even the Dianetics Bookstore was closed, although it was open to browsing, with plenty of Scientology leaflets available for the taking.

Here come the projections!

Bush wins: Indiana. Kentucky. Georgia.

Kerry wins: Vermont.

So Bush won three states. That's good news … barely. Because there are two states that cannot be called just yet: Virginia and South Carolina. These are two states that were clearly expected to be big wins for Bush. That they're both too close to call right as the polls close … that is another bad, bad sign for the President.
But the score is 34-3, Bush. Coming up at 8 p.m.: Twenty-one more states, including the big three: Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
On CNN right now, every anchor is talking in circles trying to explain why they're calling some states and not others, particularly since the polls just closed. Wolf Blitzer just said, "We've learned a lot from 2000. We're much more cautious this time than we were four years ago." Yeah, thanks.

The black analyst guy on CNN, whose name The Black Table always forgets, wasn't there four years ago, so he seems to have not have learned much. He just said, "Usually when an incumbent during a war goes into Labor Day with a lead, they win. It has been 44 years since a Senator was elected president. Kerry would only be our second Catholic President. So it looks like we might be in store for a historic night." For his own sake, and for his network's … he better be right.

8 p.m.

West Virginia was just called for Bush, and Jeff Greenfield just partly attributed it to "coal miners." Are there still coal miners?

All right, here goes ... more states:

Bush: Tennessee, Alabama, Oklahoma.
Kerry: Illinois, Connecticut, DC, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Delaware.
Split: Something confusing about Maine.

That makes it 77-66, Kerry. CNN -- and we mean not to pick on these guys; it's just the channel we're watching -- right before they announced all their projections (when the polls were still "closed"), displayed the same 77-66 total on the bottom scroll bar. It was seven seconds before the polls were closed. For shame!

Dan Rather just said: "This presidential race is hotter than a devil's
anvil." Hee.

More on that John King CNN story; CNN has contacted The Black Table to deny our story. The Black Table stands by it.

Virginia and South Carolina were just called for Bush. 87-77, the Prez leads. North Carolina just went for Bush too; make it 102. Right now, John Edwards ... well ... not helping much. He's been good business for Wendy's, though.

Senate races: Tom Daschle is still fighting for his life in South Dakota. Barack Obama -- shockingly -- is obliterating Alan Keyes, who nevertheless is making sense.

9 p.m.

Results:
Bush: Texas (really!), North Dakota, Kansas, South Dakota, Wyoming.
Kerry: New York, Rhode Island.
Split: Four for Bush, another one hanging in the air, certainly going to Bush later.

That amendment to the Colorado ballot lost as well. That's Bush 155, Kerry 112. Are other stations calling things earlier? We honestly don't know. We've gone this far with CNN; we're sticking with them.

Local 138 is a bar in Manhattan's Lower East Side and is definitively Blue State. After New York was announced in Kerry's favor, the bar's DJ started setting up for a "victory party." When asked whether the bar regularly had a DJ, the DJ responded, "No, not always ... but tonight is special." Typical New Yorkers; world always revolves around them. That said, the DJ was just shouted down by many bar patrons for spinning; they're not as sure of Kerry's victory as he is, and they'd rather listen to CNN. So far, the DJ is winning.

Some bald guy in the window behind CNN's analysts is wearing a T-shirt that says "Fuck This Shit." He looks supremely proud of himself.

William Saletan -- not exactly a Bush defender -- says he just doesn't see any way Bush wins this thing. (Hey, look, we're a blog now!)

10 p.m.

Utah is called for Bush. That's it. CNN is really dragging this out. The score, after they ceded that last delegate of Nebraska: 176-112. Wait, wait, there went Arkansas ... and Missouri! 193-112. Anybody nervous yet?

Barack Obama just came out to celebrate his Senate victory in Illinois. Interesting (and under-publicized) note about Obama: He smokes. He doesn't look like a smoker, does he? Deep down, you think he's rooting for Kerry tonight? Or is he hoping for Hillary or Edwards in 2008? Or did we just sound like Dick Morris?

Just before the West Coast polls close ... Pennsylvania goes to Kerry! Our first official swing state be swung. CNN's Jeff Greenfield does his best Hitchcock: "The tension mounts." One would hope this would be the last time we hear Jeff Greenfield say the word "mount" tonight ... but we're pessimists. It's 193-133.

11 p.m.

More states closing:
Bush: Idaho.
Kerry: California.

No surprises, obviously, except maybe that Washington and Oregon are still up in the air, perhaps not good for Kerry. (Though Oregon has that idiotic "let's mail in our ballots!" thing. As if we don't have enough junk mail.) Thanks to those rapidly multiplying Californians, it's now 197-188.

From Ohio: In a gravel parking lot outside the Arts Annex in Columbus, a run for the border is being discussed.

Most local stations have declared victory for Ohio's Issue
One: a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, civil
unions, etc. Sure, Ohio is only one of 24 states that have introduced
proposed constitutional amendments to permanently ban same sex
marriages. But Ohio already has one of the toughest "defense of marriage" laws on the books. A decisive victory for Issue One also means Ohio Republicans came out in droves.

Speaking of Ohio, someone named Eric Fingerhut just lost his Senate election. We think there was a slutty girl we knew in high school nicknamed Fingerhut. (Sorry. We liked that joke.)

Florida has 92 percent reporting, and Bush is up 52-47. It's starting to get freaky now. Greenfield's voice is becoming real serious; he's starting to sound like the guy who narrates the NFL Films videos. The crowd's getting restless too; everyone in the room here has started messing with the remote. SMACK! Stop that.

Wait ... they just flipped to Fox News. Those guys still haven't given California to Kerry? Who you guys trying to kid?

12 p.m.

CBS and ABC have called Florida for Bush. CNN, continuing to cower under their desks, are holding out. This whole thing is going to come down to Ohio. Which we suppose everybody knew.

Oh, and those exit polls earlier ... what exit polls?

There went Florida, CNN says. 234. Thirty-six to go. Someone in the room just crushed a beer can ... with their soul. In Boston, it rains as Jon Bon Jovi sings something, anything.

Oregon just went to Kerry. The mail must have came on time.

A tortured "sports" metaphor: Ever watch one of those MTV Rock 'N Jock things, where, when a team falls too far behind, they introduce some kind of ridiculous concept, like a 10-point shot, where you have to shoot the basketball through a 40-foot hoop or something. Ohio, right now, is that 40-point shot.

Senate minority leader Tom Daschle looks like he's going to lose his seat to Republican John Thune. The night isn't over ... but the Democratic blood is starting to flow more freely now.

1 a.m.

Fox just called Ohio for Bush. They better be right, or an excellent evening for them is about to shift real fast. But they're probably right. It just seems like it right now, doesn't it?

In Boston, an eerie quiet has fallen over the crowd. The home team is down six runs in the bottom of the eighth, and the fans are starting to go home.

James Carville just said, "There's no sense on spinning people at 1 in the morning." He appears lost and resigned. This turned real fast. There are plenty of people spinning at 1 in the morning right now.

1:09 a.m.

NBC has now joined Fox in calling Ohio for Bush. Everyone is just waiting for CNN, ABC and CBS to put them out of their misery.

1:49 a.m.

We're still here. None of us are sure why.

2:09 a.m.

It is possible that Ohio will make a rapid turnaround in the next four hours, and NBC and FOX will end up looking like morons. It is not possible that we will be up to see it.

What happened in this election? What did this all mean? Those are questions for a time other than now. Though we're depressed we couldn't stay up past Larry King, this is ludicrous and we're all out of gumption. We're sorry. Perhaps we are just as lazy as the alleged youth vote that clearly didn't come out Tuesday. Or perhaps we've just been up since 5:30.

But no matter what ... it's time to go to bed. Godspeed to you all.

This story was written by Will Leitch. It was reported by Martha Burzynski, Mike Cetera, Laura Davis, Chad Fifer, David Gaffen, A.J. Daulerio, Aileen Gallagher, Eric Gillin, Ashley Glacel, Shari Goldhagen, Leigh Householder, Scott Lapatine, Will Leitch, Eric McCoskey, James McKenzie, Todd Munson, Bob Sassone, Erin Schulte, Neel Shah, Rob Theakston, Matt Tobey and Ross Tucker.