How can the AP call out US midterm races just as the polls close?


Al Jazeera uses data from Associated Press to determine the winners of the midterm elections.

Almost immediately after polls for the United States’ midterm elections closed on Tuesday, The Associated Press was able to declare winners in some races.

How is that possible before results are released? Let’s see how the AP can declare a winner before the first votes are counted.

First a short refresher course on why and how the AP does this.

The country’s founders did not set up a national bureau to count the votes. Every state does it a little differently.

On election night, the AP counts the country’s votes and counts the results of millions of ballots, as reported by local election officials, to calculate the grand total for thousands of races. It has been that way since 1848 when the AP counted the votes ending with the election of Zachary Taylor as president.

How the tally is counted includes tons of preparation, journalists in all 50 US states, and a network of about 4,000 stringers or temporary freelancers.

So, what about those race calls that come in just as the polls close — before any official votes have been counted?

Some are in undisputed races or those with only one candidate on the ballot. And then there are races with multiple candidates, but in which one side or candidate has a history of consistent and convincing victories.

In these states, the AP can use the results of AP VoteCast, a survey of the US electorate to determine why voters voted the way they voted, to confirm a candidate’s victory.

“The poll results — along with our analysis of early voting and other statistics — confirm our expectation that long-standing political trends in these states will hold up,” said David Scott, an editor-in-chief who oversees AP’s election coverage.

Still, the AP will not call the winner of a race before the last polls close in a jurisdiction, including in states where the polling stations don’t all close at once.

The AP makes no forecasts and will only declare a winner if it has determined that there is no scenario that would allow the trailing candidates to close the gap — even if one candidate has claimed victory and others have conceded, Scott said. He noted that declarations of victory may be premature and concessions may be revoked.

“Only when we determine that the trailing candidates no longer have a path to victory do we call a race and send the APNewsAlert to declare that a candidate has won,” Scott said. “In a small number of cases, that can happen once all polling stations are closed.”

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