FAQS ON AP's VOTE-COUNTING NETWORKWith a GOP presidential nominating process in all 50 states and elections in both houses of Congress, the AP will tabulate votes in every state, starting with Iowa Caucus Jan. 3 through the general election Nov. 6.
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Here's an explanation of how AP will provide results in 2012 with the speed and accuracy on which its members and subscribers have learned to rely.
Q: What's different about counting the vote this time?
A: The steady increase in the number of voters who cast ballots before Election Day continues. In the 2010 general election, 30.5 percent of the vote was cast by absentee or early voters. This represented only a slight dip from the peak reached in the 2008 presidential general election, when 33.4 percent of the total vote was cast by absentee or early voters. Generally when advance voting rates jump in a presidential year, the rate stays at about that level in the subsequent midterm election. In 2006 the rate was 22.8 percent, after it had jumped to 22.7 percent in the 2004 presidential election.
This presents us with a number of state-specific issues, as often the absentee/early vote varies from the Election Day vote as far as party preference. And states often have problems counting all the absentee/early vote on election night, leaving us with all precincts reporting but a sizable percentage of the vote outstanding.
Q: What is involved in AP's election coverage?
A: From before dawn on Nov. 6 and continuing for the next 36 hours or more, thousands of people will work full time on AP's behalf to report the election. From exit poll interviewers to exit poll analysts, from vote count stringers to vote entry clerks, from bureau chiefs in the states to supervisors in New York and Washington—all are part of a precisely calibrated plan designed to report election results accurately.
Q: How will the votes be counted?
A: By shortly after 6 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Nov. 6, the first of nearly 5,000 stringers will have started to report to county election centers. When the first polls close in Indiana and Kentucky, they'll be ready to start phoning in the raw vote as it is reported by the counties. They'll place their calls to one of AP's four regional desks, the largest of which is the Western Election Center at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Wash., where the votes from 20 states will be reported by AP stringers. Stringers for another nine states will call their returns to a vote center at AP headquarters in New York. Other regional centers are in Cranbury, N.J., and Spokane, Wash.
A total of 500 vote entry clerks will punch in the numbers on a computer screen and feed them onto the state and national election tables that AP's members will see in their newsrooms.
The clerks are encouraged to ask questions to ensure accuracy. They'll ask the stringers whether there are problems in their county, question votes and precincts if results look suspect, and make sure that those working around them ask questions, too.
The vote count and entry operation will continue across the 50 states and the District of Columbia all night, tapering down about 4 a.m. Wednesday and then picking up again at 9 a.m. so AP can chase down the final results and go after returns in undecided races.
Q. How does AP make sure the count is accurate?
A: 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. In addition, experienced quality control coordinators and analysts examine results for anomalies.
Q. What about technical problems?
A. What's called "failover testing" is a regular part of AP’s pre-election routine. If one or more of AP's state computers go down, the system automatically fails over to a backup system. If one of AP’s technical centers, in Cranbury, N.J., or Kansas City, loses power, the system seamlessly swings over to the alternate site.
Q: Does AP do exit polling?
A: AP is a member of the National Election Pool, which includes the five U.S. television networks, ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox and NBC. Edison Research has conducted exit polls for NEP since 2004. Even before the first polls open at 6 a.m., exit poll interviewers report for duty at randomly selected precincts. They report the results of their interviews to Edison Research, which, some time before the first of the polls close on election night, reports the compiled information to NEP members. Telephone surveys supplement on-site polling in selected states.
Q. How does AP call races?
A. The responsibility for calling races rests with the AP bureau chief and other experienced staff for each state. They are armed with on-the-ground knowledge of their territory that no other national news organization can match. Plus they have information on demographics, absentee and other voting history and political issues that may affect the outcome of races they must call. On election night, they are assisted by experts in AP’s Washington bureau who examine exit poll numbers and votes as they are counted. A "decision desk" in Washington, headed by the Washington bureau chief, has the final signoff on all top-of-the-ticket calls.