Politics2020 Election


Vote Smarter 2020: How Are Winners Projected Before Votes Are Counted?

Newsy's Vote Smarter 2020 aims to provide you with all the information you'll need to safely and successfully cast your ballot this year.
Posted at 2:29 PM, Oct 23, 2020

How does the news "call" races before all the votes are counted?

"They call races because they have teams of political experts, experts in demographics, experts and polling experts in electoral history that can look at the results and see the trends," said David Hawkings, the editor in chief of The Fulcrum.

In the U.S., there are two primary organizations that project winners — the Associated Press and the National Election Pool from Edison Research. Major media outlets also have their own race calling teams. Exit polls that ask people how they voted after casting their ballot play a key role in making those projections, and both the AP and Edison are taking steps to account for all the votes that will come in before Nov. 3.

"We're going to be devoting more resources to exit polling people at early voting centers in states where a large proportion of vote is done at early voting centers before election day. And then we'll be doing more interviews by telephone of people who mail in their ballots,” said Joe Lenski, co-founder and executive vice president of Edison Research.

News outlets rely on phrases like "too early to call" or "too close to call" to report on results before a winner can be projected. 

"We're not going to be able to call every race on election night. We're not even going to have votes for every race in some states on election night," said Lenski. 

And it's important to remember that the vote tallies on election night might be skewed, depending on what type of ballots states tabulate first. 

"So dramatic differences between how Election Day vote reports and how by mail vote reports is something we're all aware of. And we're going to be a lot more cautious when it comes to projecting races because of those differences," said Lenski.