The father of your humble article-writer, Lary Bump, worked on the sports desk at the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in the mid 1970s. He remembers how elections worked, from the happy vantage of someone not responsible for them:
Election headquarters [in Rochester, N.Y.] were at the Community War Memorial, which was across Exchange St. from the newspaper building. I believe polling places would send someone with their results to the War Memorial, where the vote totals would be accumulated.In addition to the reporters for both newspapers then, there would be TV and radio newspeople. I'm guessing during the first years I was there that the possibilities for remote programming were pretty primitive. The TV reporters probably had to go outside to a truck to do their stand ups, etc. In fact, when I first worked at the paper, they'd probably shoot film and have to take it back to the station to process it.Probably every news side reporter and many editors would be out -- either at the War Memorial where they were counting ballots, or at one of the hotels where the political parties would be having their "victory" parties. People in the newsroom would be calling (land lines) back and forth to people with the ballot counters, I guess trying to determine which races were decided and which winners they should send reporters to interview at the hotels.The whole thing was pretty frantic. They were on deadline! We in sports were always amused by the panic we witnessed, because we had stories coming in on deadline every night. Because the deadline for the front page and local section were moved back later, we'd always have earlier deadlines in sports. So we'd have a front-row seat for the panic in the news room as we waited for page proofs and West Coast news to come in for the sports section in later editions.
We also reached out to veteran Post political reporters for anecdotes about election nights past (though photos were in short supply). Here's senior political writer Dan Balz:
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, election night was all done on paper. Stacks and stacks of wire stories and election returns and exit polls and Decision Desk calls and everything else you can imagine. Copy aides roamed the newsroom with distribution lists for this or that piece of information. [David] Broder got EVERYTHING. He wanted to see every bit of everything available. Every desk had a sign poking up with the name of the reporter using the desk (there was a new seating chart just for the night) and the story he or she was covering. We always did the 50-state roundup on the Sunday before the election and there were teams of reporters responsible on election night for tracking the regions, according to the geographic breakdown in the 50-state section. And the buffet was always sumptuous.
(We can confirm that the tradition of signs with last names marking newsroom desks continues to this day.)
Shortly after Balz wrote to us, longtime Post managing editor Bob Kaiser offered a slight correction. "Sumptuous? Well, generous."
"Compared to now, sumptuous!," Balz replied.
Your humble article-writer, however, won't cast aspersions on free pizza.