EXPLAINER: Calling a race is tricky: How AP does it

MGN Online

In the 2020 U.S. general election, The Associated Press will declare winners in more than 7,000 races – starting with the White House and reaching down the ballot to every seat in every state legislature.

Posted: Nov 3, 2020 3:00 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — In the 2020 U.S. general election, The Associated Press will declare winners in more than 7,000 races – starting with the White House and reaching down the ballot to every seat in every state legislature.

To do so, AP uses a 50-state network of stringers who collect votes at a local level, while other AP journalists gather results from state or county websites, as well as via electronic data feeds from states.

But how does the AP know when to call a race for a candidate? And more importantly, even, when not to call it? It's a complex formula that involves looking at the number of votes counted, historical data and AP VoteCast, a wide-ranging survey of the American electorate, among other things.

TAKING EARLY VOTERS INTO ACCOUNT

News organizations have long relied on surveys of voters leaving polling sites on Election Day to gather data on how the country voted. But this approach is no longer the best fit for an electorate that increasingly votes by mail and absentee, before polls even open on Election Day, said David Scott, a deputy managing editor who helps oversee AP’s coverage of elections.

Enter AP VoteCast, which debuted in 2018. Working with NORC at the University of Chicago, AP developed a new system designed specifically to account for the steady rise in votes cast before Election Day.

“This will be the first election in which more than half of voters cast their ballots in advance,” Scott said. “It’s why we took the time and spent the money to develop VoteCast.”

While the coronavirus pandemic has been an unexpected twist, Scott said AP VoteCast's methodology is well suited for this moment. Research from AP VoteCast will show how many people voted early, among other things, helping AP's race callers understand how the race is shaping up.

CALLING A RACE AT POLL CLOSE

Not all races are closely contested. In some states, a party or candidate’s past history of consistent and convincing wins – by a wide margin – make a race eligible to be declared as soon as polls close. In these states, AP can use results from AP VoteCast to confirm a candidate has won, Scott said.

“The results from the poll – along with our analysis of early voting and other statistics – confirm our expectation that long-standing political trends in these states will hold,” Scott said.

Still, AP will not call the winner of a race before all the polls close in a jurisdiction.

HOW AP CALLS CLOSELY CONTESTED RACES

In closely contested races, there is no substitute for a detailed analysis of the vote count.

Race callers work with analysts who focus on statewide races, and together they study the incoming vote county by county.

In states where the information is available, they look at the ballots and see how many were cast in person on Election Day, or in advance by mail or in person. They also pay close attention to how many have been counted so far, and how many are left. Another important factor: The voting history of areas where votes are still being counted.

All of it is aimed at determining the answer to a single question: Can the trailing candidates catch-up with the leader? Only when the answer is an unquestionable “no” is the race is ready to be called.

WHEN A RACE IS “TOO CLOSE TO CALL"

Beginning in 2019, AP’s Decision Desk started the practice of formally declaring some elections as “too close to call.” That happens when all outstanding ballots save provisional and late-arriving absentee ballots have been counted, and there is no clear winner.

AP may decide not to call a race if the margin between the top two candidates is less than 0.5 percentage points. On election night, AP generally won't call winners in races for U.S. House if the margin is less than 1,000 votes and winners in races for state legislature if the margin is less than 2 percentage points or 100 votes.

In races where votes are still being tabulated, AP will not declare a race “too close to call” unless it is clear it will proceed to or be subject to a recount. That includes races where completing the vote count may take several days. In such cases, AP will describe a race as “too early to call” — an informal designation that indicates AP does not have enough data to make a race call.

WHAT TO DO WHEN THERE IS A RECOUNT

AP does not declare a winner of an election that will be — or is likely to become — subject to a mandatory recount.

In several states, recounts are mandated if the margin between the top two candidates falls below a certain level. AP will not call a race if the margin is in the recount range — or could end up in that range as final votes are counted.

In some states, recounts can be requested if the margin falls below a certain level. In others, candidates can request a recount regardless of the margin between the top two candidates. In such instances, AP will not call a race if the margin between the top two candidates is 0.5 percentage points or less, or if the margin could fall below that once all ballots are counted.

AP may call the race if the trailing candidate confirms he or she won't seek a recount, or if the candidate publicly concedes the election.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 314509

Reported Deaths: 7247
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21626259
Hinds20359415
Harrison17934309
Rankin13634278
Jackson13447246
Madison10099217
Lee9980174
Jones8381163
Forrest7683152
Lauderdale7191241
Lowndes6401147
Lamar623086
Lafayette6200118
Washington5339134
Bolivar4802132
Oktibbeha462798
Panola4588107
Pearl River4512146
Marshall4443103
Warren4393121
Pontotoc420772
Monroe4113133
Union411076
Neshoba4031176
Lincoln3968110
Hancock379386
Leflore3497125
Sunflower336090
Tate334084
Pike3325105
Scott315973
Alcorn313368
Yazoo311669
Itawamba300477
Copiah297065
Coahoma295479
Simpson295288
Tippah288768
Adams286882
Prentiss279760
Marion269280
Leake268373
Wayne262641
Grenada261487
Covington259681
George248048
Newton246861
Winston227281
Tishomingo226967
Jasper221148
Attala214473
Chickasaw207857
Holmes189173
Clay185454
Stone182833
Tallahatchie178841
Clarke178080
Calhoun170832
Yalobusha164338
Smith162434
Walthall133945
Greene130633
Lawrence128624
Montgomery126942
Noxubee126734
Perry126338
Amite123142
Carroll121829
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis107133
Tunica105726
Claiborne102430
Benton99525
Humphreys96733
Kemper95828
Franklin83823
Quitman80916
Choctaw76418
Wilkinson67331
Jefferson65728
Sharkey50217
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 532895

Reported Deaths: 11001
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson771431528
Mobile41089808
Madison34837505
Tuscaloosa25810454
Montgomery24355588
Shelby23730249
Baldwin21191309
Lee15892171
Calhoun14522316
Morgan14324279
Etowah13861353
Marshall12250223
Houston10581281
Elmore10060205
Limestone9986151
Cullman9705194
St. Clair9702243
Lauderdale9441242
DeKalb8846187
Talladega8255176
Walker7246277
Autauga6938108
Jackson6815112
Blount6694137
Colbert6310134
Coffee5524119
Dale4850111
Russell443238
Chilton4308112
Franklin426282
Covington4136118
Tallapoosa4039152
Escambia393977
Chambers3578123
Dallas3557152
Clarke351161
Marion3130101
Pike311377
Lawrence300798
Winston275673
Bibb261564
Geneva251477
Marengo249664
Pickens234761
Barbour231756
Hale223277
Butler216469
Fayette212562
Henry189044
Cherokee184745
Randolph181742
Monroe178040
Washington167639
Macon159950
Clay156857
Crenshaw152757
Cleburne149141
Lamar142935
Lowndes139053
Wilcox127130
Bullock122841
Conecuh110629
Coosa107928
Perry107826
Sumter104832
Greene92534
Choctaw61124
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