Home>Feature>The O’Toole Chronicles: Election Day Etiquette

Kevin J. O'Toole, the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is a former New Jersey State Senator. (Photo: Kevin J. O'Toole.)

The O’Toole Chronicles: Election Day Etiquette

By Kevin O'Toole, November 07 2022 12:01 am

Many of you will wake up tomorrow morning and realize that months, perhaps years, of planning and preparation are about to come to an end – good or bad.

We’ve covered a lot of different topics in these columns, but one that we never touched on was Election Day and, as a candidate, what do you do. You’ve gone from knocking on doors, dialing for dollars, meet and greets to now waiting 14 hours (or longer thanks to some changes in vote counting) for democracy to decide your fate.

It is no longer in your control. There’s nothing more YOU can do. What a strange feeling.

Let’s explore this a bit.

Your alarm goes off in the morning, assuming you slept the night before, and you’re filled with anxiety (if you’re not then you have no business running for office). So many questions are swirling around your brain: Did we do enough? Did we send enough mail? Did we spend enough on digital? Were our pieces too pedestrian? Should we have punched harder? Did we knock on enough doors? Did we cover every town (or precinct)? You replay every moment from petition filing day to Election Day to determine if what you did was enough to win. Chances are if you took it seriously, you did everything you could. It’s tough self-examination though.

Many repeat candidates are superstitious, they have a routine of visiting their campaign headquarters and bringing coffee and donuts to poll workers as they make their “rounds.” Not a bad start to the day.

Then there are those candidates who go to headquarters to check on the campaign team. They sit around waiting for the 10 a.m. call with turnout numbers from certain towns or precincts. They offer to drive people to the polls. They actually show up at the polls to do their own challenging. Way too late in the game and way too ridiculous for you to be doing.

Some Election Day operations are tried and true, and some are unscripted and just bananas. That is the beauty of our Democracy.

Typically, the campaign manager, if they are half-way decent at their job, has a program in place where they are getting turnout numbers, they are in contact with challengers if there’s an issue, and they have lawyers on standby.

It is only having experienced the complex and insane Election Day operations, as both a candidate and campaign manager, that I can state with great experience and conviction, a candidate should not see the guts of Election Day Operations.

The candidate should not be involved in the minutiae of the last and final day. Nothing good will come from a candidate inquiring about logistics that have been planned by staff for months. The candidate will get texts and calls from well-wishers and individuals who will point out some anomaly that only makes the already anxious candidate hyperventilate. Someone will invariably try to show their “value” by reporting directly to the candidate. It happens without fail in this business. It’s not helpful, but it always happens.

Much like a five-year-old, the candidate needs to be managed and entertained for the day.

I know of one member of Congress who went bowling with staff every Election Day, and he and the staff hated bowling. I know another candidate who went to the same Italian restaurant with close supporters and talked shop for 4 hours. Most candidates have a routine. What is important is that the candidate should take the political version of the Hippocratic Oath – do no harm.

In 2007, during my last contested race, I stayed up the last week hammering out every last detail and was left exhausted and with little to do on the actual day – shocking, I know.

I had extraordinarily competent staffers and they had the Election Day operation down to a science. Their vote goal program was flawlessly executed, and we came within 60 votes of our goals. However, I wanted to micromanage and get involved. I was told not so politely to get lost. Oddly enough, and against my nature, I actually listened.

Instead, I visited some random polling places and headquarters. I wandered around and called my supporters to thank them, but it I was now 10 a.m. I received some last day checks (another interesting topic about these professionals who hand deliver checks the day of). A close friend suggested that I play a few holes of golf, and back then I hated golf. I killed some time, even managed to take a nap, and waited for 8 p.m. to roll around.

It seemed like the clock was moving backwards.

I took preliminary numbers at 8:15 p.m. from the Town of Oakland. This was a pivotal town for us in the primary and once we won it 2-to-1, I knew the race was over. I went to the overflowing campaign headquarters and thanked the room full of supporters. Not all were my supporters, some people actually left my opponent’s barren headquarters when they saw only 6 people — true story.

Tomorrow is the day you’ve been waiting for.

Candidates: If you took the campaign seriously and did everything you were supposed to – there’s nothing left for you to do or worry over.

Campaign Staff: Your candidate is going to ignore the sentence above. It’s on you to pack their day with distractions, so you can do your job.

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