The Washington Post Will 3-D Print White Houses Tonight to Count Electoral Votes

"It’s a slow journalism way to enjoy the vote counting."

From 7 pm on Tuesday evening, the Washington Post plans to use 3-D printers to track the accumulation of electoral votes–by 3-D printing a pair of five-inch-wide models of the White House. The coverage, which you can watch live on Facebook, will depend on two Makerbot Replicator+ 3D printers and the Associated Press’ decisions on which states the candidates have won to build the models. The first person to get to 270 electoral votes: 1) Gets a complete miniature White House in either red or blue; 2) Gets to live in the real one. The loser’s White House will remain incomplete.

There is perhaps no greater symbol of the Washington Post‘s increased resources under owner Jeff Bezos than this project. The publication has added 140 people to its newsroom since the Amazon honcho bought it in 2013, and it designed its new headquarters so engineers and digital product people would sit among the journalists who type for a living.

The White House thing has been a “side project for a handful of people,” says Jeremy Gilbert, the Post‘s director of strategic initiatives. “In addition to all The Post’s thoughtful, serious coverage, we wanted to offer our audience a fun and light-hearted way to track the presidential results,” he tells Washingtonian over e-mail.

So. Jeremy. How on earth did this idea come about? “This election has been quite serious and acrimonious,” he writes. “We wanted to find an alternate tone for people tracking the vote. The White House is a natural symbol for the presidency and the idea of building a White House as a way to see who’s ahead on election night felt natural. Once we tried watching the 3D printers work, we found it almost mesmerizing. It’s a slow journalism way to enjoy the vote counting.”

Tuesday night, Gilbert says, the Post will staff the project with “a graphic artist, a videographer and a couple of producers.” If there’s a 269-269 tie, he says, neither White House will be finished–“frustrating for us, but probably a lot more frustrating for the country.”

Okay, but I have to know: Why do something like this on a night when people wanting to track election results will have roughly 1,000 other viewing choices? “There is no shortage of election night options,” Gilbert says. “The Post has its own terrific live show planned. The 3D printing project is meant to be in another category. It’s entertaining while being informative.”

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