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Behind the Curtain: How News 15 Reports Election Results, Calls States

News 15 is committed to providing the most accurate and up to date election results.

Posted: Nov 3, 2020 12:32 PM
Updated: Nov 3, 2020 4:55 PM

News 15 is committed to providing the most accurate and up to date election results. News 15's News Decision desk will use several sources on election night to determine if races can be called. Below are some of the resources News 15 will use to call races in the Novemer 3, 2020 election. 

Calling a race is tricky: How AP does it

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 regional 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. Calling a race for one candidate or another depends on a complex formula that involves looking at the number of votes counted, historical data and a wide-ranging survey of the American electorate, among other things.

How does NBC News project the outcomes of races?

To view NBC coverage of the Presidential Election click here

Early on election night, the NBC News Decision Desk uses exit poll data to determine whether uncompetitive races can be called. Most races are called based on analyses of precinct- and county-level vote returns. The analyses also examine differences between early and Election Day votes. In close contests, a careful analysis of how much of the vote has not been counted is a crucial part of the process. No race is projected until the Decision Desk is at a minimum 99.5 percent confident of the winner.

NBC News will not project a winner in a race until after the last scheduled poll-closing time in a state.
What kind of calls and characterizations does the Decision Desk make?
Here are the key Decision Desk calls and characterizations our audience can expect to hear from NBC News on election night:
Too early to call: This characterization covers two scenarios. The first is that there might be a significant margin for one of the candidates, but we have not yet met our statistical standards to project the race. The second is that there is not enough data to determine the margin with certainty.

Too close to call: The final margin between the candidates will be less than 5 percentage points. The Decision Desk will not use this characterization until we have statistical confidence that the race will be this close.
Projected winner: NBC News has made a projection that a candidate will win the race.
Apparent winner: NBC News has projected that a candidate has won the race, but the results are close enough that the outcome may depend on a potential recount and/or confirmation that the results that have been reported are accurate.
Winner: This designation is used for projecting U.S. House races.

How will NBC News call control of the Senate?
When a party has gained a majority of seats in the Senate, the Decision Desk will project control for that party.
What is the House Estimate, and how will NBC News project control of the chamber?
The House Estimate is a projection of the makeup of the U.S. House of Representatives as a whole. The Decision Desk calculates the probability of a Democratic, Republican or Independent victory in each of the 435 individual House races based on pre-election research. On election night, election analysts examine all the available vote data and adjust the probabilities for each House seat that changes from its pre-election probability. The model then calculates the most probable outcome of the election in the House and an estimate of the probability of error expressed as a number of seats plus or minus. The Decision Desk will project control of the House for a party based on the House Estimate.

NBC News is part of the National Election Pool. What does that mean?
The National Election Pool, or NEP, is a consortium of major news networks — ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC — that pools resources to gather vote data and exit poll data. The NEP works with the consumer research firm Edison Research to collect timely and comprehensive election data on Election Day and in the following days, weeks and months until results are certified by all states. The NEP licenses data to several news outlets, including Reuters and The New York Times, among others.

How are votes counted?
Data reporters across the country talk to local election officials and report raw vote results on a county-by-county basis from the time polls open until they close and long afterward. The data is supplemented with state and county vote computer feeds and websites, when available.

What is an exit poll, and why does it matter?
Using proven probability-based sampling methods, the exit poll is a survey of voters conducted as they exit their polling places. It is the only survey measure of real voters, and it is conducted at hundreds of polling places using around 800 interviewers. In-person Election Day voters will be interviewed as they leave their polling places. To account for the high number of early and absentee voters, the exit poll includes extensive interviews with in-person early voters, as well as telephone surveys of those who mailed in their ballots. About 100,000 interviews will be conducted.
The NEP has continued to adapt its best practices and refine the exit poll.

How does NBC News ensure accuracy?
Analysts inspect results and look for irregularities or inconsistencies with past voting behavior. If data seems irregular, a rigorous quality control process is triggered to determine if results are correct.

What are the steps taken to gather and report election data to make a call?
1. Data reporters and interviewers in the field collect the results. On Election Day, votes will be tabulated in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., for statewide races, ballot measures and all 435 House races. Interviewers also conduct in-person national and state exit polls, the only survey of real voters in the country, measuring who voted and why they made their choices. About 3,600 interviewers will be working for us through the NEP to collect county- and precinct-level votes and to conduct exit polls.
2. Multiple sources provide vote results throughout Election Day.
Data is collected through multiple sources on Election Day, with data reporters and interviewers across the country calling in results on a timely and rolling basis all day long. Vote data is also collected through state and county websites and feeds.
3. Data is checked for accuracy.
Vote results are rigorously checked and verified. Part of quality control involves checking that vote data is consistent across sources, and we also compare the vote to past election results to see whether the turnout looks extremely different across multiple past races. The Decision Desk vote count analysts, along with computer software, trigger quality control alerts, and any votes that fail the quality control check are reviewed by senior team members.
4. NBC News independently analyzes the data.
NBC News race projections are completely independent of those of other news outlets. The Decision Desk independently analyzes vote data and exit poll data and uses proprietary statistical models, as well as a team of experts, most with Ph.D.s, in the areas of data analytics, polling, election administration and political science to interpret the results to decide when races can be projected.
5. Results and projections are delivered quickly.
Election Day vote data is made available as quickly as possible, although it is likely in the general election that vote reporting will be slower than in past elections because of the pandemic. That is largely the result of a massive expansion of early voting in most states. Exit poll results are independently analyzed in real time, and NBC News calls all races as soon as the Decision Desk is at least 99.5 percent confident in a projection.

How will FOX News Call their Race

The Fox News election “decision desk” is insulated from the right-leaning partisan pundits on the network. Arnon Mishkin, 65, leads the group of pollsters, statisticians and political scientists who will analyze the vote count, polling numbers and historical trends and determine the winners of the races for president, as well as the House and Senate races.
The operation has a track record of playing it straight and calling races correctly — even when it’s bad news for the Republicans. (Mishkin is also involved in the Fox News polling unit, which has gotten under the president’s skin throughout the campaign as it has consistently shown him running behind Biden.)
Fox News was the first to project that the Democrats would take back the majority in the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterms. In 2012, Mishkin went on camera to stiff-arm Republican strategist Karl Rove, who disputed Mishkin’s call giving Ohio’s electoral votes and the presidential election to incumbent Barack Obama.

The top-rated cable news network has upped its election-calling game in recent years with the Fox News Voter Analysis System, a survey developed with the Associated Press and the NORC at the University of Chicago, which queries more than 100,000 people on their candidate preferences. (The AP will provide the same survey data to its member news organizations — including NPR, Univision and PBS — under the name VoteCast.)
The survey is compiled from telephone and internet responses and eschews the traditional on-site exit polling of voters that has proven inaccurate in recent presidential races. It will be tested for the first time in a presidential race, which because of the pandemic is expected to have an unprecedented number of voters using mail-in and absentee ballots instead of showing up at the polls.
Mishkin, who worked with legendary New York political consultant David Garth when his clients included the 1982 California gubernatorial candidate former Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley, has led the Fox News decision desk since 2008. The Brooklyn-born-and-bred Yale graduate, who has two adult daughters with wife Susan Fine, a real estate developer, previously served as an editor at NBC News. Outside of his election work for Fox News, he’s a management consultant who advises media companies on digital marketing and strategy.
Mishkin recently talked to The Times about what to expect when one of the most contentious campaigns in history is decided on election night.

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