ORLANDO, Fla. – Calling election results are an important part of the democratic process and accuracy in calling races is essential in building trust in the process.
Most Americans are used to election results being called on election night and in recent years have questioned when results take days to call.
At News 6, we rely on the Associated Press to call Florida and U.S. races, which are normally calls based on ground-level data.
When it comes to local races — things like county commission, city mayor, etc. — News 6 will call those races ourselves, and we rely on a very conservative process.
News 6 will have the results for dozens of local races on election night across Central Florida.
When deciding whether to call races, two things matter — how many polling precincts have reported in, and how close the vote is.
If we see a landslide majority for a candidate — at least 60% — with a majority of the precincts reporting in, we may announce that a candidate has won a race.
We do not make calls in tighter races, in case there are recounts.
We get these numbers from the county supervisors of elections, who report the numbers as they are counted on their websites. You can see the results come in yourself.
Note that if you see numbers coming in within the first half hour after the polls close, that’s because in Florida the counties can process and count vote-by-mail ballots and early voting ballots before the polls close on Election Day.
Florida and U.S. races
The Associated Press has a process for calling elections at the state and federal levels with a year-round team that knows all the rules for every state and what to expect in terms of how ballots are counted.
A massive undertaking
With political reporters based in key states around the country — and reporters on the ground in all 50 states — AP has an unparalleled footprint for election-related coverage in text, photos, video and live video. From the places they know the best, AP reporters are sending in what they’re seeing at the polls and reporting any issues that arise.
Besides its own journalists, the AP has about 4,000 stringers — temporary freelancers — who, through years of trusted relationships with county clerks and other local officials, gather vote totals at the local level and feed them to AP’s vote entry centers.
Hundreds of vote entry clerks answer those calls, take down the tallies and enter the results into AP’s election database. Since many states and counties display their election night results on websites, some clerks monitor those sites and enter results into the database, too.
Accuracy matters most
All the numbers are checked multiple times for accuracy.
Vote entry clerks ask questions to verify the information they’re getting, like whether there are problems in the stringer’s county, and challenge the details if something seems off.
Automated checks also spot any issues with the data, like inconsistencies with a county’s previous voting history or other data. For example, if more votes are reported as being cast than there are registered voters in a county, an alert will pop up on the clerk’s screen and summon a supervisor.
AP’s team of full-time election research and quality control analysts monitor and examine the results for anomalies, using sophisticated statistical tools and AP’s own research to ensure accuracy.
In 2020, AP was 99.9% accurate in calling U.S. races, and 100% accurate in the presidential and congressional races for each state.
Who makes the calls — and how?
On election night itself, race callers in each state are equipped with detailed information from AP’s election research team, including demographics, the number of absentee ballots, and political issues that may affect the outcome of races they must call.
According to Stephanie Ohlemacher, AP Election Decision Editor, about 60 people will be involved in declaring winners in more than 7,000 races across the country in this year’s general election, with some specifically focusing on types of races, like Congress, gubernatorial and legislative contests.
The senior editors of AP’s decision team, based in Washington, provide the final approval on races for president, governor, U.S. Senate and key races for U.S. House, and consult with race callers around the country on other statewide races.
The AP does not make projections and will only declare a winner when it’s determined there is no scenario that would allow the trailing candidates to close the gap.
“When the votes come in and they meet our expectations, it makes it much easier to declare a winner,” Ohlemacher said. “When the votes come in and contradict what our expectations are, that’s when we slam on the brakes. We don’t call a winner until there is no path for the trailing candidate to catch the leader.”
For more information on how the Associated Press calls federal and state races, you can refer to these articles:
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