Sunday, March 25, 2012

Tweets from the Tally Room or, a bird's eye view of where your pencil mark ends up.

Yes of course, a psephy goes to the tally room on election night and last night was no exception. Here in Brisbane it is at the Convention Centre opposite South Bank. Members of the public are welcome to watch the gradual accumulation of their collective participation in the democratic process grow in columns of red, blue, green or yellow. It is fascinating to think that just hours before, your thoughtful pencilled in numbers from 1 to 3, 4 or more are now there on the board, part of a pretty tremendous decision making process. Part of the fun of course is spotting your vote! 

The tally room is the place where the media also set up for the night to bring you the news as it unfolds. Behind us sit the political commentators, the TV people whose faces you might recognise, the politicians, past and present, who have been called on to offer their opinions. They're a bit like bringing in retired footballers or ex-test cricketers to offer an air of 'authenticity'. And, just like ex-players, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

This year I met up with a couple of tweep acquaintances Evan (@EvanontheGC) and Corinne (@Kin_). That was a first for me and a nice way to spend an evening. (There were those *odd* moments thought when we were tweeting each others comments and retweeting the same...ah Twitter... 'Tis nice to meet the tweeps.) Notwithstanding the tweet meet, and the little bit of interaction we had with part of the team with ABC Radio, sadly the Tally Room didn't have its usual 'vibe' and rumours of its demise were understandable. 

Previously, we've been able to anticipate the arrival of the victor and the vanquished, watch the speeches, feel the outcome of that pencil mark we made earlier in the day. But on my way in to the Tally Room I learned (via Twitter, of course) that neither the premier nor the opposition leader would be turning up later in the evening. That was a tad disappointing. 

So we were left to just watch the numbers roll across the screen. At 6.00pm it's eyes on the screen, waiting, waiting for those first numbers. You briefly ponder how accurate the opinion polls and exit polls might prove to be; watch for the 'key' seats, the marginals, the ones with 'celebrity' candidates, and of course, one's own electorate...because you're not always a completely dispassionate observer. In effect you are witnessing the immediate employment prospects of a selected 89 people, the 'winners' of a contest in which we should all play a part. 

The numbers roll out. A good psephologist is always cautious, reluctant to make bold statements on the basis of a few percentage points. There is no commentary as such in the Tally Room. You don't hear the buzz of observations from the TV sets (they're fenced off to the general public). So your assessment is your own. I like it because it tests me to make a call without other opinions, initially. I usually wait until about 7.15 to make a call, depending on how close it is. Usually, at that time, there's enough to go on. This time however, it was looking pretty apparent about 20 minutes in that a landslide was on. I switched the twitter hashtag to #blueallover by then...deliberately ambiguous so that those who supported the LNP could enjoy their moment (blue being the colour of the party), and suitably for those on the other side who might feel blue as the reality hit. 

So with the result done and dusted early on, and no expectation that the victors and vanquished would be appearing, well, it was kind of over by 6.30 from the beating heart of our democracy. All that was left was opportunity to hear the chatter, watch the reactions and start thinking about the next post. When ABC Radio's Richard Fidler tweeted a photo of a cockroach which had made an appearance at his table, one sensed it was time to go home. 

It will be indeed a sad day if the Electoral Commission of Queensland opts for an alternative, or even a virtual, tally room next time. I, for one, continue to value the chance to see the accumulation of pencil marks change a government peacefully and without real bloodshed, unlike the metaphoric corpuscles splattered across today's newspapers. 

The next post will offer some thoughts about the results of those accumulated pencil marks.