Election Day, 2004

By Edward Cone Print this article Print

A what-if scenario, looking at technology strategies that could be applied in a close presidential-election race to the finish.

Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2004—3 a.m. PST
The final Democratic Party pre-election poll is in. The eVote projection shows President Bush ahead of former Vermont Governor Howard Dean with the backing of 47% of likely voters, to Dean's 40%. Surprising third-party candidate Jeffrey B. Swartz, the former chief executive of socially conscious bootmaker Timberland Co., has 11%. At this point, Bush should capture enough electoral votes to win outright. But Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi is ready to pull the trigger, as the East Coast prepares to go to the polls.

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4 a.m. PST
Usage of the Verizon, Sprint PCS and Cingular Wireless networks spike in major metropolitan areas on the East Coast. Trippi has unleashed a "Wireless Wakeup Call'' to a million likely voters, identified during 350 campaign events organized in the last year through the online Meetup service. ZIP-Code captains are getting text messages telling them to call their personal lists of likely voters directly to get them (a) to go to the polls and (b) to call friends and acquaintances to tell them their votes matter.

Those with pagers are getting reminders of where their local voting precinct is, and a note that Dean is behind. The rest are getting prerecorded messages to vote before heading to work. A similar mass-messaging tactic helped elect Korean President Roh Moo-hyun in 2002.

6 a.m. PST

Wireless network volumes start to spike in Illinois, Missouri, Ohio and other pivotal Central Time Zone states. Call volumes are still surging on the East Coast, particularly on conventional phones. Internet traffic is surging. Exit polls for third-party candidate Swartz show Trippi's tactic is giving Dean momentum early. So Swartz campaign manager Maria Campioniti decides to fire back.

8 a.m. PST
Hundreds of street volunteers show up outside coffee shops throughout the Boston, Chicago, New York and Washington metropolitan areas, as well as in small cities from Greenville, S.C. to Brattleboro, Vt. Campioniti has unleashed a wave of e-mail, instant messages and cell-phone communications on behalf of the candidate whose write-in campaign has surged with grassroots Internet support in the last six weeks. Now, on public sidewalks, chanters are urging potential voters to choose "The Third Way," arguing that Swartz is the only candidate running without endorsements from any organized interests, like Dean, or big-money dinners and contributions, like Bush.

10 a.m. PST
Dick Cheney, who stepped aside as vice president to run the Bush campaign, starts to worry about the two most populous states in the East, Florida and New York. He asks Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to get vans to every seniors' center and multifamily residential center in Dade and Tampa's Hillsborough counties in order to ferry voters to the polls.

12 p.m. PST
Early returns show California firmly in the Bush camp. But Uvi Lintel is just getting going. The Silicon Valley programmer is launching a set of flash election events on the Internet on Swartz's behalf. He's started a chain e-mail program telling 100,000 known Swartz supporters to get 10 voters each to the polls in the next two hours.

2 p.m. PST
Midday polls show Bush's numbers dropping almost 5% across all time zones. The heaviest hits are in California, Florida, Illinois and Texas. Smelling blood, Trippi and Campioniti each turn to volunteers to stage events targeted at commuters. Dean supporters download posters from his Web site and show up at major traffic intersections in Chicago, Dallas and Miami, handing out directions to major polling stations. Swartz supporters take printouts with their candidate's bio as well as write-in instructions and hand them out at commuter train and bus stations. President Bush is seen eating at The Coffee Station, the only café in Crawford, Texas.

4 p.m. PST
Bicyclists, skateboarders and Rollerbladers stage an impromptu Meetup at the Sunset Boulevard Hotel and fan out into stalled traffic on Los Angeles' freeways. They carry placards on their backs, "People-Powered Howard Needs Your Vote.'' Swartz volunteers are seen chatting up patrons at movie houses, Chili's restaurants, and bars in Dallas, Houston and Austin.

6 p.m. PST
Republicans launch a last wave of radio and television spots on the West Coast. Trippi sends phone numbers and e-mail addresses of 500,000 registered voters who have not voted in the last two presidential elections to state organizers in California, Oregon and Washington. Swartz volunteers launch an instant-messaging campaign with hundreds of high-school students, telling each one to contact 100 other students to convince their parents to get to the polls before they close.

8 p.m. PST
Polls close. Trippi and Cheney claim victory on behalf of their respective candidates.

10 p.m. PST
Swartz concedes defeat, but claims to have made his point. After just a six-week campaign, capturing 14% of the popular vote—on a write-in basis—reflects the country's deep-seated dissatisfaction with party politics. In the future, he says, all successful presidential campaigns will be independent, personally driven campaigns that seek only "the endorsements of individuals."

Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2004—12 a.m. PST
All major broadcast networks declare the election too close to call. The only candidate with a shot at enough electoral votes for an outright victory is Bush. But if California falls to Dean, the election is likely to be decided by the House of Representatives.

3 a.m. PST
California's Secretary of State—a Republican—says President Bush appears to have edged Howard Dean, 43% to 41%, earning enough electoral votes to win the presidency. An overnight Democratic poll indicates Swartz backers largely siphoned votes from Dean, denying him the outright victory in the decisive state.

8 a.m. PST
Dean declines to concede defeat.

This article was originally published on 2003-12-01
Senior Writer and author of the Know It All blog

Ed Cone has worked as a contributing editor at Wired, a staff writer at Forbes, a senior writer for Ziff Davis with Baseline and Interactive Week, and as a freelancer based in Paris and then North Carolina for a wide variety of magazines and papers including the International Herald Tribune, Texas Monthly, and Playboy. He writes an opinion column in his hometown paper, the Greensboro News & Record, and publishes the semi-popular EdCone.com weblog. He lives in North Carolina with his wife, Lisa, two kids, and a dog.
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