U.S. Election Night – 1970

This was taped in advance for KLC Radio, the Lewis & Clark College campus radio station in Portland, Oregon.  I don’t know if they aired it or not, or whether they even received it through the mail in time.  It is reproduced here because it adds some more details of life in Berlin Brigade.  The punctuation is my own style for radio news of the period.   At the time this was written on my Berlin desktop, the absentee vote from soldiers was not of as great interest as it sometimes is now, because the 26th Amendment was not in effect until the 1972 elections, so soldiers younger than 21 could not vote.  My native state, Oregon, took an earlier attempt to force the lowered voting age on the states to the United States Supreme Court, in Oregon v. Mitchell (1970 case).  In the draftee-based military of 1970, this included a substantial number of military non-voters.  For more information on the youth vote and the history of the 26th Amendment, visit:


Shared a barracks desk with my roommate.

Election Night, November 1970

by R. W. Rynerson

As commentators and computers probe the significance of tonight’s election returns there’s one group of ballots which resists prediction – – –

Absentee ballots, cast by thousands of servicemen and women, Peace Corps members, and other persons kept away from neighborhood polling places by travel, health, or at distant universities.  In tight races these ballots may be a deciding factor.

Let’s look at overseas voters.

First of all — These voters are insulated from late trends by distance.  Letters First Class from Portland average seven days to Berlin.  Airmail averages four to five days.  Second class mail which brings newspapers and newsletters can vary wildly in delivery times.  One week’s City Club bulletin can take over two months for delivery, while the next week’s issue roars past it and arrives in seven days.

Secondly — While radio and television provide instantaneous coverage of stateside news, local reports rarely reach overseas listeners.  There just isn’t time enough for the local issues of fifty states on European radio.  So, while overseas, absentee voters may be reached by last-moment national news.  Little local news crosses the ocean.

Thirdly — Overseas voters miss that day-to-day element of discussion which voters at home may take for granted.  Local Oregon issues mean little to the people an overseas voter meets daily.  Therefore, there’s little chance to get the opinions of other people.

What’s been done to put overseas voters in touch with home?  Most valuable has been air mailing of the League of Women Voters’ publication — titled “VOTE” — which features the views of most candidates in a standard format.  One candidate for city commissioner, Connie McCready, mailed a form letter to absentee voters [note: she later became the second woman to serve as mayor of Portland].  The City Club’s analyses of some ballot issues have arrived.  And relatives may send comment in letters from home.  That’s it, for overseas voters.

There ARE some advantages.  There are no election billboards in Berlin this week.  No one has asked for contributions or arrived with a bumper sticker on his car.  Last minute attacks on personalities won’t be heard.  In some ways the issues seem simpler.  And the contrast with his host country’s thought and politics may give an overseas voter more perspective on home issues.  In Berlin the importance of voting is especially clear.  The airwaves here seem to be a jungle of political comment and electronic interference.  Even the Armed Forces Network broadcasts of the World Series games were interfered with by high-powered East German transmitters.  The simple act of voting becomes a political statement in itself.

When absentee voters finally sit down and face the ballot, they’ll not be marking their choices with a blue stamp [as in Oregon for optically-read paper ballots].  Instead, they’ll be using adhesive-backed paper blue dots.  This process of voting is a great mystery to other persons in the area.  To the outsider it seems that the Oregonian is working a puzzle.

Tonight, as commentators and computers analyze the balloting there’s always the possibility that one or two election night puzzles will be solved as the mailbags, rather than the ballot boxes, are opened.

From Berlin, this is Robert Rynerson reporting.