October 28, 2020

This year’s election might feel like the weirdest ever, but there’s plenty of precedent. I have a quirky election story to share with you. In 2015, I was a reporter for the Bradenton Herald. My beats were law enforcement and Anna Maria Island, a 7-mile island on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

The island, made up of three cities, is filled with beautiful beaches and political drama. The oddest election story I covered had to be an unusual tie-breaker that made Manatee County history when ousted Bradenton Beach Mayor William Shearon got his job back from his former Vice-Mayor-turned-Mayor Jack Clarke after drawing an ace of clubs. For months, I had watched tensions boil between both men and some members of the Bradenton Beach Commission.

Shearon, who died in August, was believed to be the state’s first legally blind mayor. He was always accompanied by an adorable guide dog named Reese, who I loved to pet before city meetings. Shearon had been removed from office and succeeded by Clarke after a recall election. That special election closed a tumultuous chapter begun in late 2014 when a petition committee to recall Shearon was formed.

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Shearon ran for mayor again, and there was a tie between him and Clarke. Which is what brought us to the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections office, where the two men drew cards to determine who got the gig. Clarke drew a 10 of clubs. Shearon drew an ace of clubs. Shearon was named mayor again. “It feels wonderful,” he told a group of reporters afterwards. “I’m glad that the turmoil is over and the questions are over.”

The story, rightfully so, made its rounds on the internet, where comedian Chelsea Handler’s team got wind of it. A producer reached out to me for a contact, but couldn’t say much. I found while looking through public official emails that Handler’s team was hoping to film on Anna Maria Island. Handler ended up interviewing Shearon for her Netflix show, “Chelsea.” Clarke declined. 

During Handler’s interview with Shearon — which was cringey and at times funny — you see someone had framed the winning cards, and a print article about the momentous tie-breaker. It was my story from the Bradenton Herald. That was my sort-of cameo on a Netflix show, and a story I will never forget. 

With a historic presidential election less than a week away, I reached out to other journalists to get their weird election stories. May this be a tiny respite from the heaviness of the political climate right now.

Politics in a strip club, plus more in Utah

In my time covering news in Utah, there have been a few election-related stories that come to memory: I remember covering a third-party candidate who went on a hunger strike to try to get attention and get into a debate (I gave him attention, but he didn’t get into the debate). There was the attorney general candidate who held a political fundraiser in a strip club (he was an attorney by profession and the club was a client of his).

There was also the attorney general candidate who abruptly dropped out the night before his only statewide televised debate as the entire Capitol Hill press corps was driving four hours across Utah to cover it. The debate organizers ended up giving an hour of TV time to his opponent, who went on to win the election. 

One of my most memorable was reporting on the state conducting election monitoring in a polygamous community here in Utah where a big municipal election was taking place. It would eventually unseat the mayor and a majority of the council (that were viewed as loyal to imprisoned polygamist leader Warren Jeffs) with more secular representatives, including the community’s first-ever woman mayor. That story, and subsequent follow ups, really drives home the point that “all politics is local” and people really care about what’s happening not just on Capitol Hill, but in their neighborhoods. – Ben Winslow, reporter for FOX 13 News in Salt Lake City, Utah

Betting on the presidential election

My latest quirky election story I did was on two of the state’s largest online sports-betting companies allowing people to place bets on the presidential debates. The two companies have a sizable presence in New Jersey, given the prevalence of the state’s sports-betting industry. Now they’re letting people bet on the outcome of the presidential elections. – Daniel Munoz, staff writer – state government for NJBIZ in New Jersey

Electing the dead

In 2018, voters in rural Nevada elected a dead brothel owner to the state assembly, and the only surprise was how unsurprising it was. Before the vote, several political pundits told me that by dying three weeks before the election, Dennis Hof, the self-proclaimed “Trump of Pahrump,” may have actually improved his chances. Hof was probably going to win in the heavily Republican district regardless, but his untimely death gave some political cover to religious conservatives who may have been squeamish about electing a pimp — even a licensed one. In a lot of pretty entertaining ways, Nevada is still the Wild West. – Henry Brean, reporter for the Arizona Daily Star

Jumping ahead

When I was at USA Today, I covered a bunch of strangers, mostly Bernie Sanders supporters, who crowdsourced the results of the Hawaii Democratic caucus and projected the winner before the Hawaii Democratic Party did. I found that super unusual, but hey, it’s the age of the internet. – Steph Solis, reporter for MassLive 

Kicked out of a caucus

I was working as a radio news reporter at the time and covering the 2004 presidential caucus. It was something I had never done before and was really looking forward to being part of the process. I was working for a news outlet in Minnesota and was sent to my precinct to not only cover it for news purposes but to also participate.

I went, fully prepared with my recorder and a list of questions. I arrived early and asked for whoever was leading the caucus and if anyone was available for comment. I also asked if I could speak with a voter. Understanding the process is secret, I said I didn’t need voters’ names or anything. Just a few quick comments from three or four people. 

I was told absolutely not. This is a secret process and not open to the media and that I needed to leave. I asked if I could stay and participate as a voter without the recorder, notebook or anything as it was in my voting precinct. I was told absolutely not and was unceremoniously thrown out. They even held up the process until I gathered my belongings and I left. Stunned, I walked out the door. – Jennifer Lewerenz, news director of AM 1450 FM 99.3, KNSI, in St. Cloud, Minnesota

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Amaris Castillo is a writing/research assistant for the NPR Public Editor and a contributor to Poynter.org. She’s also the creator of Bodega Stories and a…
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