5 Recommendations for Your 2020 Election Night Watch Party

The most-anticipated night of the last four years is almost here: Election Night 2020! We all remember where we were on Election Night 2016, but where will you be this year?

One of the most unique parts of working on state legislature campaigns is that every year is a general election year. That means that every single November, we get a thrilling Election Night! State elections differ strikingly from presidentials because of the lack of media coverage, the slow rate of returns, and the often very small margins.

Here are some lessons learned from throwing Election Night watch parties over the last four years, along with some ideas based on our virtual events during the pandemic. 

1. Set expectations early and often.

As we all know, voting by mail will be way up this year, and mail-in ballots take much longer to count than in person voting machines. In fact, in some states, counting cannot even begin until Election Day. Especially in narrow races, it’s likely we will not know the winner on Election Night.

It’s important to frame your party around celebrating your known achievements, rather than on the possible results. This is a time to take a look back through the year, celebrate your successes, and spend time in community and solidarity with your fellow volunteers.

Of equal importance is emphasizing that not knowing the results on Election Night is totally normal, and does not necessarily indicate there is anything wrong with the electoral process. If you’ve worked on state legislative races before, you know that races are frequently not called until days or weeks later!

2. Trust papers of record and official statements, not gossip.

Reliable national media outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, NBC, and NPR have experienced elections staff and sophisticated tracking. They all want to be the first to announce results, but none of them want to end up making the wrong call (2000, anyone?).

Resist the urge to grab ahold of the most “up-to-date” speculations on social media, or other gossip through the grapevine. While it may be well-intentioned, this kind of information is highly unreliable. Remember: social media algorithms feed on your “emotional rollercoaster,” which keeps you coming back over and over. There is no penalty to being “wrong” on social media; only a reward for being newsworthy.

3. Set a clear end time, and stick to it.

Because definitive results may not be available on Election Night, it’s important to set an end time for your celebration. If you’ve set expectations correctly (step 1), then your attendees should be able to sign off and get a good night’s rest. There’s no need to stay up all night – we’ll be able to pick it all up again in the morning.

4. Have some programming, but allow for plenty of socializing.

We recommend having an “open” Zoom party that can last for several hours with attendees coming and going. Designate one or two people to be the “MC,” welcoming new folks, introducing speakers, and giving updates on any news.

Periodically, for example at the top of every hour, you could have 10-15 minutes of scheduled programming (a speaker, a musical performance, quick cocktail class, “activism bingo” game, a stretch break, and so forth).

Finally, consider giving participants the option of going into breakout rooms. There’s no need to set them in advance – if a small group wants to chat by themselves, they can simply request that the host create a breakout room in the chat box.

5. Prepare a way to talk about both wins and losses.

Of course, we’re hoping for a Democratic landslide on November 3, but realistically, we probably won’t win every single race.

Wins are easy to communicate – there’s no celebration too small! But it’s helpful to have  a game plan to talk about our losses. Here are some pointers:

  • First and foremost, empathize with your fellow volunteers and leave space for disappointment and sadness. They’ve worked hard for this candidate all year!
  • Candidates who have run once are in a much better position to run again – they gain immeasurable experience, build relationships, and increase their name ID.
  • If we only supported winning candidates, it would indicate that we’re only supporting “safe” candidates, rather than “on the bubble” candidates who really need our help.
  • Highlight how much your team has grown as a result of working for this candidate. This infrastructure and experience makes you stronger too!

Remember, every loss is a down payment on our next win. Each time, we learn how to be better organizers and activists, and our candidates learn how to run better campaigns. This means that next time, we’ll start that much closer to the finish line.

We hope these pointers are useful as you are preparing for Election Night 2020. (And if you’re interested, we invite you to join our official virtual watch party!) We know the night can be fun, stressful, and suspenseful all at the same time. But more than anything, we hope you’ll be able to celebrate the wins we have already achieved, both this year and in the four since Trump’s election. No matter what, 2020 is one for the history books.

Want to receive text messages on Election Night about Sister District’s candidates? Text NOV3 to (833) 602-8124!