How media organizations report election results in real time

As Americans prepare to go to polling stations on election day this November 3, U.S. news agencies prepare to report on the tally that will determine the winners of more than 7,000 races, including seats in the White House, House and Senate, state offices and local legislative positions.

In the United States, news organizations observe the real-time vote count and use a variety of information to determine when they can declare a winner in each race, including vote totals, the voter exit poll and the estimated number of votes still not counted. in each enclosure.

Here’s how it works and what news agencies do to make sure they don’t make mistakes.

Who announces the winners of the American elections?

State election officials are the ones who certify the vote count, but long before every ballot is counted, the US media use a variety of data sources and tools to project winners. Using a collection of raw vote totals, statistical techniques, and projections, news agencies, which have been covering the U.S. presidential election continuously since 1848, have had an excellent – but not perfect – call record. to the race winners.

How do news organizations count the results of votes on election night?

Votes are compiled county by county by The Associated Press, a nonprofit news agency that uses its nationwide network of more than 4,000 reporters on election night to record the vote count of county clerks and others. local officials. The PA also collects information from the websites of states that publish election results. Journalists pass this information on to the AP’s vote-counting operation, where analysts decide which races are ready to be called.

Philadelphia City Commissioners’ Office workers sort election materials for the 2020 U.S. General Election at the city’s Postal Ballot Sorting and Counting Center in Philadelphia on October 26, 2020.

Who counts ?

Local election workers collect the ballot counts in each constituency. How and when the ballots are counted is determined by local and state laws. For example, some states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin require that no ballots be counted until election day, even if they arrived at polling stations weeks earlier. Once a constituency’s votes are counted, election officials relay the information to county and state officials, who then make the tally available to reporters and the public.

What do journalists do with local counts?

PA journalists across the country phone the results to data entryists at specially set up election centers where they are entered into an electronic system. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, electoral centers are virtual in 2020. All vote counts are subject to a series of checks and checks, including computer programs that trigger alerts in the event of inconsistencies with the vote count. votes due to previous voting history or other data. .

Who decides the winners?

At the AP, a race appeals team on the decision desk determines when they have enough information to declare a winner. The team examines more than the grand total of votes, taking into account the incoming vote as well as the number of remaining ballots to be counted and where those uncounted votes were cast.

This election, the PA does not use data from exit polls conducted by the National Election Pool as it has done in years past. This data is collected by pollsters who ask voters questions when they leave their polling stations. AP says he doesn’t think such data is effective when large numbers of people vote early.

Other news outlets, including major television networks – ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC – continue to be part of the national electoral pool and will have access to exit poll data to help make election projections. The networks also use specially designed election offices to make calls on election night.

This means that different media organizations can declare election winners at different times, using their own models and data.

A voter casts her mail-in ballot during an advance poll at the Park Slope Armory YMCA in the Brooklyn neighborhood of New York on October 27, 2020.

A voter casts her mail-in ballot during an advance poll at the Park Slope Armory YMCA in the Brooklyn neighborhood of New York on October 27, 2020.

How do they count the ballots since so many people vote early?

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many more Americans are voting early this year, and many of those votes are cast by mail. Postal ballots generally take longer to count than those cast in person. Election officials must open the ballots, make sure a voter is registered, and often verify their signature.

For this reason, the AP predicts an “extended vote count” in more states than in previous years, which could last for days or weeks. The PA developed its own survey in 2018 designed specifically to take into account the increase in votes cast before election day. The survey, called the AP VoteCast, captures the opinions of those who voted early as well as those who voted on election day and will help the AP factor in early voting when calling for races.

How accurately does the media report the results?

The media were largely accurate in calling the election winners. However, their credibility was significantly damaged in the 2000 presidential race when most of the media prematurely called the race for Al Gore around 8 p.m. on Election Day and then called it again for George W. Bush after 2 p.m. in the morning the next morning and then canceled all calls. as an automatic vote recount started in Florida.

The AP has been counting votes for more than 120 years and says that in 2016 it was 99.8% accurate in calling all U.S. races and 100% accurate in calling presidential and congressional races for each state. AP declared Donald Trump the winner in 2016 at 2:29 a.m. on Wednesday, November 9.

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