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Alums Accurately, Fanatically, Cover Presidential Race

Green Papers website a go-to source for journalists

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Richard Berg-Andersson will spend tonight as he has spent every presidential primary night this year: tracking election returns from his Morris County, N.J., bedroom, while fellow Terrier Tony Roza does the same from his home in California. Both will plug the results from today’s California, New Jersey, and several other contests into a website that looks a bit like an artifact from the early internet years.

For all of its Clinton-era look (we don’t mean Hillary), the Green Papers, created by Berg-Andersson (CAS’78) and Roza (ENG’77) in 1999, attracts plenty of A-list users. The US State Department, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Huffington Post, CNN, National Public Radio, FiveThirtyEight: all relied on the site as one of the most authoritative sources for delegate counts in the Republican and Democratic primaries this winter and spring. Overall, the site’s view-o-meter says, it’s had more than 2.5 million hits.

The Green Papers also reports general election results and information about candidates for Congressional, state, and lesser offices, linking to states’ official sites and data—all in a format that the Times describes as “a shade of near-fluorescent green” with a “1990s-era typographical mix of Comic Sans and Arial.”

While the two do cover the big November vote, it’s the statewide primaries that have made the site’s reputation. Delegate calculations for each party’s nomination are a confusing morass. Some states hold primaries; some hold caucuses. Democrats award their delegates proportionally, based on candidates’ percentages of the primary vote, while Republicans in some states have winner-take-all rules: whoever wins the primary collects all the delegates.

This mishmash, plus the potential (no longer a possibility) for a contested Republican convention this year, made accurate delegate tallies vital. The media have long relied for those on the Associated Press, which requires a subscription, unlike the publicly available Green Papers.

On primary nights this year, Roza entered updated delegate information from secretary of state offices, while Berg-Andersson e-fielded questions from the media and other interested parties. He also determined who prevailed in any contests for lesser office. Berg-Andersson says he typically would stay up, if necessary, until midnight Eastern Time; if the night ran long, as on nights with multiple primaries, Roza—in California, with its three-hour time difference—could cover for him. “Mr. Roza himself doesn’t stay up much beyond midnight Pacific Time, and only if necessary,” says Berg-Andersson.

“It’s a geeky, obsessive information stash that lots of people rely on when they want fast, basic information,” says Virginia Sapiro, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of political science and former dean of Arts & Sciences. “They caution that it’s not authoritative, so if a social scientist is trying to enter data for technical analysis, it may not be the place to go, although personally, I don’t know that it’s error-prone.…It’s certainly useful.”

Sapiro agrees with the Times that the Green Papers can be hard on the eyes. “Even in the olden days,” she says, “it broke the rules of how one was told to design a website.”

The story of how two Terriers built a tool beloved of political journalists and data purists began at BU in 1976, when a former Georgia governor named Jimmy Carter, as audacious as he was obscure, decided he’d be the best Democratic nominee for president, and Ronald Reagan challenged President Gerald Ford on the GOP side. Berg-Andersson and Roza, two political junkies living in a BU brownstone on Beacon Street, would print out updated delegate counts from the nominating contests and tack them to a bulletin board inside their dorm’s front door.

“My interest in national convention delegate selection…goes back into my teenage years,” says Berg-Andersson, who handles all media interviews for the team, because “Mr. Roza is a very private person.” (The Times dubbed the pair “The Secretive Duo Guiding the Delegate Count.”)

Two decades after graduation, Roza told Berg-Andersson that he was interested in assembling what became the Green Papers, with the two calculating delegates themselves—for the sheer joy of it, not as a profit-maker. The site got its name from the color of the computer paper rolls they used to print out delegate counts.

“The primary media interest in the Green Papers was from foreign journalists,” Berg-Andersson says. “In fact, I cannot recall a single American journalist—print or electronic/broadcast—with whom I was in direct touch during the entire 2000 election cycle.” Not until four years later, when only the Democrats had a contested nomination, did he see US media websites credit the Green Papers’ delegate counts. By the 2008 election, he was showing up in domestic radio and print interviews.

Berg-Andersson says much of what he studied at BU has helped with his Green Papers work. A music major, he loaded up on social science courses as part of the CAS nonhumanities core requirement, including Constitutional Law and American and world history classes. He recalls studying American history with the late Robert Bruce, whom he has quoted in the Green Papers. He recalls a memorable Bruce-ism: “The best impeachment is more usually the next election.”

This year’s primaries, he says, remind him of 2008, which also featured a protracted Democratic battle—between Hillary Clinton and a certain other candidate. (Memo to those with short memories: she lost that one, whereas she just clinched this year’s nomination.) “I can’t really say that 2016 is more difficult—or even more interesting—than that one was,” Berg-Andersson says.

As for the bedeviling complexity of the nomination process, the former Constitutional Law student says Congress lacks the authority to regulate or standardize the process, by design: the Founders created the Electoral College for nominating candidates, and they didn’t foresee or want political parties. Berg-Andersson once wrote a Green Papers commentary advocating a constitutional amendment permitting a national presidential primary, but given predictable opposition from parties and/or the states, he’s not holding his breath.

And the Green Papers’ funky look? “The way our site looks has, by now, become as much a part of the brand as the very name the Green Papers itself.…Our site has always been very much ‘function before form,’” he says, “and that is pretty much all we have ever really cared about.

“Well, that and being as accurate as might be practicable.”

3 Comments
Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

3 Comments on Alums Accurately, Fanatically, Cover Presidential Race

  • Steven on 06.07.2016 at 2:14 pm

    Had no idea that BU alums ran The Green Papers. Good looks to Berg-Andersson and Roza for putting together this indispensable resource.

  • Susan Evoy on 06.07.2016 at 3:04 pm

    The Founders did NOT create the Electoral College for nominating candidates.

    The Electoral College is not involved in nominating candidates.

    Each state’s winning presidential electors only travel to their State Capitol on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December to cast their votes for President and Vice President.

    • Richard E. Berg-Andersson on 06.07.2016 at 4:48 pm

      The Electoral College (a term the Framers themselves never used) was originally set up to spit out no more than 5 presidential candidates with at least regional/sectional appeal (from which the U.S. House would choose the President [the Vice-President would be the person with the most Electoral Votes *not* chosen by the House to be President]) once George Washington was no longer available (the Framers could not fathom that “lesser” men than Washington himself would ever gain a majority of the Electors’ votes)– so, yes, it was intended to be merely a nominating process (again, post-Washington): the rather quick emergence of national Political Parties, however, put the ol’ ki-bosh on that idea (thus, the Electoral College never ever worked as the Framers themselves had first thought it would).

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