With white walls and desks full of computers, the nondescript room on the fifth floor of the Lincoln Building in downtown Spokane doesn’t particularly reflect its importance.
It’s only used a few times a year, but one night every four years the room becomes the epicenter of history in the making.
The location is one of four – including two in Spokane County – the Associated Press uses as results collection centers during elections.
Counties and states around the nation tally their election results and send them to about 350 people at the Lincoln Building and at Eastern Washington University before the rest of the nation sees them.
Dana Bloch, director of the AP’s Spokane Data Center, said correspondents from counties around the country send their results via email, fax, phone call or a website.
“If AP calls the race in a state, you’ll see the flash on CNN or NBC or whatever saying AP has called Georgia for whoever within seconds,” Bloch said.
The Spokane County locations handle results from 31 states, a number that could change this year as a result of Superstorm Sandy.
The country’s other two data collection centers are in New York City and New Jersey, areas heavily affected by this week’s storm.
Bloch said the buildings are usable, but there is concern that workers might not be able to get to the sites for training Saturday or on Election Day. If not enough people can make it to training, he said, Spokane may absorb more states into its data collection pool.
“We’re prepared to take on more here if it turns out we can’t get enough people to work that night or if there are any technical problems,” Bloch said. “If they can’t get enough people to work the rehearsal, we’ll go into contingency mode then.”
Bloch said Spokane is a convenient location for the AP to house the majority of its results collection because of its location in the Pacific time zone and proximity to three universities full of college students looking for part-time work.
During the year, he said, AP employees work primary elections; during the general election, those employees become trainers for the new hires.
Everyone will go through one more training session on Saturday, he said.
The first results Tuesday will come into the centers as polls close in Virginia at 4 p.m. Pacific time.
Bloch called the whole process “chaotic” to start, but as results pour in, the importance of the moment magnifies.
“The next thing you know you’re halfway done and the president has been called,” he said. “And you feel like you’ve been part of a pretty big event.”