How The Washington Post Reports Race Calls

In the 2022 midterm elections, voting ends when polls close on Election Day. But that doesn’t mean we’ll automatically know the winners of the 35 U.S. Senate seats up for grabs, or the outcome of the 36 gubernatorial contests, 435 U.S. House seats, and a host of state legislative races also at stake. .

The process of calling the races – projecting a winner as the votes continue to be counted – is tricky.

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The Washington Post doesn’t call the races alone. It draws heavily on two nonpartisan organizations with a long history of reviewing raw vote totals and calling elections: The Associated Press and Edison Research, the latter of which provides vote count data to a group of television news. networks. While The Post also looks to its independent election model to provide insight into the voting trend as the results are tallied, it does not rely on the model to make race calls. It is important to remember that the official winner of any electoral contest is not determined until the state government has certified the vote – in many cases weeks after the election itself.

Why is it so difficult for winners to be officially declared on election night? The answer is that the United States does not hold a single election for Congress, state houses and state legislatures – instead, it specifically holds thousands of contests in dozens of states and of counties by local officials in a disparate way. This highly decentralized system is one of the reasons why experts say voter fraud is so rare – but it also makes it harder to reliably predict results soon after the polls close.

This year, for example, because there are so many competitive races for the House and Senate, we may not know which party controls which chamber of Congress on election night. This response might take some time.

The Post seeks to be as transparent as possible about what happens behind the scenes in our newsroom on election night. Our top priority is reporting accurate information to our readers, which could mean releasing race calls more slowly to give our reporters more time to determine if we have enough data. For a handful of the most competitive races (more on which below), we’ll spend more time analyzing data from AP and Edison to decide when we’re ready to release it.

Below we describe how we decide when a race call is ready to report.

Where does The Post get information about how Americans vote?

The Post relies on two organizations for voting data: the AP and Edison Research. Our results pages depend on constantly updated tallies from the AP, which has multiple ways of gathering information: reporters who visit and/or call county or clerk offices, maintain good lines of communication with them , and who view county websites or other programmatic feeds. Edison operates its own vote counting system, providing data to the National Election Pool (NEP) consortium of ABC, CBS, CNN and CBS as well as other subscribers.

The AP and Edison also conduct extensive surveys of early and Election Day voters, measuring support for candidates across a wide range of demographic groups as well as opinions on major election issues. AP’s poll is called AP VoteCast, and Edison conducts the exit poll for the NEP. Such polls are usually only one piece of information informing race calls, and competitive competitions rely primarily on analysis of vote tallies.

The AP’s call-to-run team includes about 60 reporters, editors and analysts in a general election, according to David Scott, AP vice president and chief information strategy and operations officer. .

Its standard for race calls is “certainty,” Scott said, which means the AP will only call races when it sees no possibility the leading contender could lose. The AP seeks to ensure that it knows the location of all pending votes in a state or county to confirm that there is nowhere a trailing candidate could outrank or a trend may be reversed.

Sometimes the AP calls a race right after the polls close. This usually happens in less competitive races, where the trend lines match up well with previous elections and reflect the AP VoteCast poll. Other times, a call comes in shortly after the polls close, such as when the expected contest winner leads by an overwhelming margin in vote tallies or VoteCast polls. Slower race calls are expected in more competitive races.

Edison Research’s decision office relies on three teams of 4 to 6 experts each who analyze House competitions, participation levels and review and then make race calls, said the co-founder and executive vice president. Joe Lensky. The organization feeds its vote count and polling output data into several computer models. Once a leading candidate has a 99.5% chance of winning, Edison’s decision desk will consider making an appeal.

“Even when the calculations indicate we’re at that level,” Lenski said, Edison’s team will “clean up the data” to make sure the remaining vote can’t change the outcome.

How do mail-in or mail-in ballots affect a race call?

Different states have different rules about when local authorities can start processing mail-in or mail-in ballots – opening and voter ID verification – which have increased sharply in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic . There are even more rules regarding when these bulletins can begin to be compiled.

This means that in states like Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina, which allow advance processing of mail-in ballots, the first release of vote totals will likely come from mail-in ballots arriving before Election Day. polling and early voting in person. The next ballots to be counted are often Election Day votes, followed by mail-in ballots that arrived on (or in some states a few days after) Election Day.

Other states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan do not allow mail-in ballots to be processed before Election Day. So the first ballots that will be counted and reported in these states will likely be Election Day votes, with mail-in votes being reported later.

The Post is thinking carefully about the combination of Election Day and mail-in ballots used by the AP and Edison when reporting a race call. If The Post determines that there are not enough Election Day ballots included in a screening, we may delay reporting a call.

How will The Post report calls in the most competitive races?

For the vast majority of non-competitive House, Senate, gubernatorial and statewide contests in the general election, The Post will rely on AP race calls. The Post’s results pages and live results modules for these competitions will contain AP information and feeds.

We do, however, use a more rigorous process for the most competitive races: approximately 12 Senate contests, 60 House races, six gubernatorial contests, three Secretary of State contests, and two elections in Maryland and the District of Columbia, for Controller and Board. at-Large, respectively. We draw on ratings from the Cook Political Report and pre-election polls to categorize the competitiveness of individual competitions.

For the 12 most competitive Senate races, The Post will be awaiting a call from either the AP or Edison. Once an organization places a call, we’ll review information from both groups about the race, as well as review our own model data and scorecards to see if we’re ready to report the call. We spend more time analyzing competitive races in the Senate because there are fewer of them and because of the importance of each race in deciding the control of the chamber.

For the most competitive House races, The Post decided to wait for both the AP and Edison to call those contests before reporting a winner. We will apply that same standard – a call from both offices – for the gubernatorial and secretary of state races that we are watching closely.

How will The Post report on House and Senate scrutiny?

The Post will report Senate control when Democrats have won 50 seats (Vice President Harris would be the 51st deciding vote), or Republicans have won 51 seats., representing the 65 seats that are not up for election this year. The Post will report House control when either party wins 218 seats.

Because we apply a stricter standard to a handful of races, The Post might be slower to report which party controls Congress than the AP or Edison. That’s because we’re waiting for both news organizations to project a winner in the more competitive House races and taking more time to assess calls for Senate contests.

How will The Post use its electoral model?

Our electoral model, which you will see on our website on Election Day, estimates the number of votes outstanding in a given race and which candidate or party is most likely to benefit. It aims to provide a more complete picture of the results after all the votes have been counted instead of the sometimes misleading picture of the results earlier in the night.

If all goes well on election night, you’ll also see information based on our model included in our live coverage and on The Post’s live broadcast. This information is based on comparing what the model tells us about how likely Americans are to vote with demographic information from the US Census and records that states keep about their voters.

We consult our model when considering signaling a race call, but only to confirm that the AP or Edison projections match what our model shows. If our model estimates an entirely different outcome in a given race, we could delay reporting the call and widen the gap.


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