On Election Day, Inside WBUR caught up with WBUR's senior political reporter, Anthony Brooks, to talk about what Americans can expect, his experience covering presidential elections, his take on polls and more.
What can Americans expect this Election Day? Massachusetts voters?
Brooks: I want to urge people to take a deep breath and be patient. Don’t expect a resolution by the end of the day. Many states do not begin to count their mail-in or early voting ballots until Tuesday, so there is no expectation that it will be tied up by the end of Election Day. Sit tight.
With that said, we can look at a few key indicators on Tuesday that might give us a sense of the outcome. Florida is already counting their votes — that is a major swing state carrying 29 electoral votes. Arizona, another swing state, is already counting ballots too. (Related: You can hear Anthony talk about key Senate races across the country on On Point.)
You’ve covered many past presidential election years and much has changed. What feels the most different about this year based on your past experiences?
Brooks: What feels most different is that we’re in this kind of frightening moment where it’s not just a contest between two people with different ideas. The stability of our democracy is being questioned. The underpinnings of how we elect a president are being challenged. We have a president talking about election fraud before the ballots are even counted. In contrast, I covered the 2000 election where the Supreme Court decided the outcome. Al Gore disagreed with the decision but bowed out gracefully.
Today, we hear of armed movements and protests on both sides, anticipating the outcome. The stakes feel much higher than anything we’ve ever experienced. On the other hand, I interviewed Nancy Talbot, a town clerk in Ware, Massachusetts. Talbot is confident the election will be fair, safe and that every ballot will be counted. She is representative of town clerks everywhere! I think of all the Nancy Talbots across the country and I am optimistic.
What’s your take on the temperature here in Massachusetts — do you anticipate any rioting or unrest (regardless of who wins)?
Brooks: Of course, I hope not. If there are really dramatic examples of voter suppression, anything is possible. But I don’t expect it. What I’m hoping for — with all that’s at stake in this election — is that everyone gets out and votes. This past Friday, Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Bill Galvin reported that more than 2 million votes had already been cast. In 2016, we had a total of 3 million votes cast. This is going to be a record turnout election.
Ranked choice voting is on the Massachusetts ballot. Governor Baker, who has high favorability of residents from both political parties, recently said he didn’t support it. Will he have sway here … do you anticipate it’ll pass?
Brooks: Governor Baker is highly respected. I think his word matters. And although he is incredibly popular, that doesn’t mean that everyone will vote his way. For example, he’s thrown his support behind Senate candidate Kevin O’Connor who’s up against the incumbent Ed Markey. Ranked choice voting is the issue locally that I’m most interested in. They do it in Maine, and Cambridge has been doing a version of it for decades.
Polls — trust them or not?
Brooks: There is a lot of talk about the polls and how Biden has an advantage nationally, but a lot of Democrats are worried — could it be like 2016 all over again?
In 2016, the polls weren’t that wrong. They predicted a popular vote by Hillary Clinton, but what they missed was the incremental shift in a few states at the end. I’ve been reviewing dozens of good, quality polls that show consensus about where things stand. All that said, there could be other unknowns that come together and shock us.
What do you expect for your reporting on the outcome of the election?
Brooks: This is the culmination of what we’ve been covering. Now, I’m fascinated to see what will happen. I’m especially interested to hear how the central Mass. towns that were red in 2016 vote this year. Now all I can do is unplug, listen and try to share what we learn about what America will do.
This interview is edited for brevity and clarity.