The life of a reporter on Election Day

By Cassandra Brown

Freelance journalist

   It was 4:15 a.m. on the coldest day of the year. Frost coated the ground like snow. It was a balmy 28 degrees when I left the house at 5:45 a.m., but I was determined to report on the polling precincts for Election Day.

   This was how my day started off, covering the local polling places for FauquierNow.com, my local online newspaper, around my hometown in Fauquier County, Virginia.  

   Due to the rural locations of each polling precinct, it took about a half an hour drive to reach each location. I visited a total of seven polling precincts in the southern half of Fauquier County on Election Day, spending about 30 minutes at each location. My editor, Lou Emerson, covered the northern section of Fauquier County.

   The state of Virginia has specific legal ground rules for reporters on Election Day. Reporters must wear media credentials and identify themselves to the chief officer of election at each polling place. Interviews must be conducted outside the 40 foot prohibited activities area, according to Alex Ables, Fauquier County registrar.

   The Code of Virginia (§24.2-604) says that media can come into the polling place for a reasonable and limited period of time to film or photograph.

   The media must ask a voter’s permission to take their photograph, cannot reveal how a person voted in the photo, and cannot film precinct materials to reveal voter names. 

   Once I knew the ground rules, I planned out my day according to the location of each polling place.

   My goal for each location was to capture scenes at the different polling places around the county. Diversity, old and young voters, first time voters, and traditions at the polling places were scenes I looked for throughout the day. Photos were a very important aspect of the day.

   I wanted to focus on humanitarian type stories that bring people together, instead of the politics of the day.

   My day started at Liberty High School in Bealeton, Virginia at 6:15 a.m. There had been a long line stretching outside when the polls opened at 6 a.m. according to poll workers.

   From there I traveled to Kettle Run High School and found my first in-depth story. A 33-year-old lady had brought her four-year-old son with her to vote. This was only her second time voting her entire life because she had been nervous about the whole process. She has now taught her son that voting is an important right by bringing him to the polls so when he is old enough to vote it will come naturally to him.

   At Cedar Lee Middle School, where some poll workers have been working for 10 years, the atmosphere was full of excitement and the workers felt like a family. They always plan a potluck meal where everyone brings their favorite dish to share.

   Several poll workers I talked with enjoy working the entire day just to see old friends and connect with the community.

   At my own polling place, I met an 18-year-old high school student who voted for the first time. He had started a young democrat club at his high school and his car was decorated in patriotic window paint.

   For the most part, I was allowed to take photos of people walking to the voting booth and checking in at the registration table without any problems. Most voters were friendly and put their political differences aside, agreeing to speak with me about why voting was important.

   The only challenge became finding unique stories readers would find interesting.

   Throughout the day, I realized how much Election Day brings people together, regardless of their choice of candidate. In a small town, you see people from the community you have grown up with your entire life. For one day, everyone stops their regular jobs to come together and vote, to have their voice heard.

   One 93 year old man shared his wisdom by saying, “Voting is not only a privilege, but a duty.”

   There was a record turnout of 35,399 or 82 percent of voters who cast their ballots yesterday in Fauquier County, more than the 2008 election.

For a sample of my work, visit: http://www.fauquiernow.com/index.php/fauquier_news/article/as-many-as-35000-will-vote-today-in-fauquier

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