How the Associated Press calls election races and ensures vote count accuracy

2020 Electoral Map as of Tuesday, November 10.
2020 Electoral Map as of Tuesday, November 10.(WVLT)
Published: Nov. 9, 2020 at 7:33 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 9, 2020 at 8:27 PM EST
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(WVLT/AP) - How does the Associated Press decide when it’s time to call a presidential race? The short answer is: Math.

On its website, the Associated Press details the criteria that must be met before it will call a winner. According to that website, “Race calls made by other organizations have no bearing on when AP declares a candidate the winner.”

AP also says their race calling staff members are professionals who have access to a lot of data, including, “AP’s vote count, which it has conducted in every U.S. presidential election since 1848,” and information from AP Votecast polling data.

You can read the details of the AP Vote cast polling data methodology here.

In some instances, in states that do not have close margins, a wide enough gap between candidates can allow data analysts to make a projection about the state’s outcome as soon as the polls close. However, AP says it will never call a race before all polls in a state are closed.

Additionally, AP says it will not project a winner in any state with results that fall into automatic recount territory.

According to AP, a race will be labeled as “too close to call,” if the margin between the two top candidates remains too narrow.

“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 may not 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,” says the website.

The Associated Press also has protections in place to cause an immediate red flag if there are inconsistencies in the vote count.

"As votes are entered into the AP system, they must pass through computer programs that set off alerts in cases of discrepancies or apparent inconsistencies with previous voting history or other data. If a clerk enters numbers that show a significant disparity from expected patterns, for example, a popup box appears on his or her screen that summons a supervisor to intervene.

Our team of full-time election research and quality control analysts monitor and examine the results for anomalies, using sophisticated tools and our own research to ensure accuracy."

You can read more about the Associated Press’s election calling and vote counting processes here.

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