FAQs: How The Associated Press will report results of Nevada GOP caucuses

Jan. 31, 2012
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Social media will again play a role in disseminating the results from a state caucus. Results of the Nevada Republican Presidential Caucus on Saturday, Feb. 4, will be released through Twitter and Google, state GOP leaders have announced. Google had a similar role in the Iowa caucuses.

See details about the Nevada caucuses in the AP story. Read the AP statement welcoming the addition of Twitter and Google to the process.

AP’s elections team answers key questions below raised by the Nevada plan, notably that disseminating caucus results received from a political party is different from counting votes recorded on voting machines used in primaries and elections.

On any given election night, for example, the AP tabulation is more than just a report of numbers from a single source. In exercising the quality control that our members and customers have come to expect, AP’s tabulation is often a mixture of feeds, reports from stringers, examinations of state websites and examinations of county websites. In the Nevada caucuses, we will have only a single source to depend on -- the Nevada GOP.

How will AP work with the results of the Nevada caucuses after the state GOP first shares them with Google and Twitter?

Once the party “certifies” and approves the release of a set of precinct caucus results, they will be made available via the Twitter feed, and also via the Google county and precinct fusion tables, which are live, machine-readable files containing results that are offered to the news media.

We will be testing the electronic receipt of the precinct-by-precinct caucus results from both sources this week. On Saturday, we will rely on the Nevada GOP to relay results from the precinct to the location chair and then to the state party. We will rely on the state party, using Google Apps, to input the results, and we will look to either the Twitter or Google feed for the receipt of the results.

As numbers from Saturday’s caucuses come through after 5 p.m. PT, we’ll parse those results and subtotal them by county (our basic reporting unit), and run them through a gauntlet of quality-control checks.

If we find results that look statistically unlikely, or are clearly in error, we will immediately ask the state and/or county party officials to check the results in question, and to fix them if there is a mistake.

While we wait for fixes to work their way through the Nevada GOP/Google/Twitter process, we can make changes ourselves in our system, if necessary, and notify our members and subscribers.

If the party is inexplicably slow in releasing results from a county, even after the long, planned delays between the finish of the caucuses and the release of results, and we cannot get an adequate status report from the state party, we will try to call the county party involved, perhaps for a direct vote report.

On the other hand, if reporting from the party is steady and everything checks out, we will essentially be ingesting and passing along the results from the state party.

How will the plan for the Nevada caucuses differ from the way results of elections and state primaries are tabulated by AP?

Quite a bit.

In almost every case, primaries are run by state and county election authorities. Everything from ballot access to voter eligibility to polling hours to canvass and certification processes is established by law and administered by professional election administrators. Ballots are cast on certified and tested voting equipment, and even unofficial election night results are often released via certified election night reporting software. In most party-run affairs, the party has no voting equipment to work with, and no “off the shelf” tabulation software or tools to use to tally the results (which their own bylaws often require). This is where Google Apps have filled a need -- by providing some state parties with software and tools to tally and report results.

This means that on a regular election night we can call out to county or state election officials and often get live status reports, and feedback on results that we think might require confirmation. These officials can check their own voting and tabulation equipment and reporting software, and use their training to make sure the results are right. Over the years AP has developed excellent

Even the manner of releasing the results is different in caucuses and primary elections. Elections have more standardized “poll hours” than caucuses, especially the Nevada caucuses. In most elections, larger counties release their unofficial results in waves, starting soon after polls close, and ending late in the evening, with most or all of the vote counted. In the Nevada caucuses, however, some precinct caucuses will be completed five hours before the party plans to start releasing results.

In addition, the Nevada caucus vote totals will be low, probably about 50,000 in about 2,000 precincts, and therefore easier to process and check, and to tweet. In the Florida GOP presidential primary on Jan. 31, we tabulated more than 1.6 million votes from about 6,800 precincts.

Advance voting (absentee and early voting) is a big variable in reporting most elections. In the 2008 general election, more than a third of the nationwide vote was advance voting. AP spends a lot of time researching rules and procedures so that we can deal effectively with advance voting within our election night tabulation, reporting and race calling. In caucuses, advance voting is negligible or not allowed, depending on the state party.

On any given election night, AP elections staffers assess and compare results from two, three or four sources. That means the AP tabulation, far from being just a report of numbers delivered from a single source, is often a mixture of reports from stringers, feeds, examinations of state websites and examinations of county websites. In the Nevada caucuses, we will have a single source to depend on -- the Nevada GOP.

At the other end of the spectrum, many states have no central statewide election night reporting system, and no websites to speak of, so AP local stringers are the only source for election results for the media and the public. Without AP’s extensive stringer network, vote entry centers and election team, there would be no statewide results on election night in some states.

On Jan. 31, polls in much of Florida closed at 7 p.m. ET. We started getting results at 7:03, so that by 7:25 we had results in our system from 35 of the 67 counties thanks to our network of stringers in Florida and our examination of websites at AP headquarters in New York.

Earlier in the evening, we had found out that the Secretary of State had decided not to release any results until all the polls in the state had closed at 8 p.m. ET, which is when AP and the TV networks ended up calling the race for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who was far ahead in our count.

What can AP members and subscribers expect from AP on Saturday?

After tabulating GOP primary results in Florida on Tuesday, Jan. 31, what happens in Nevada depends on what the party does with the tabulation and how well the results are made available by Twitter and Google. AP results will almost certainly be a few minutes behind the race level results that the party is releasing through a Twitter account and Google maps, as announced last Friday by the Nevada GOP, because we still expect to need a couple of minutes to parse and ingest the feed, and have it go through our software checks and out in our report cycles.

And we might purposely hold back on reporting some results if they are flagged by our quality-control checks and analysts.

Because of the party’s decision to hold off on starting to release results in Washoe and the rural counties until 5 p.m. PT, and to hold off on starting to release results in Clark until the evening “religious exemption” caucus convenes at 7 p.m. PT (or perhaps later), we do not expect an early night. And because the Nevada GOP apparently plans to release results from any given county only when it is complete and 100 percent, we will not see a normal reporting pattern in which cumulative updates from the counties are issued throughout the night.

We plan to vet the results and get them out to our members and subscribers as seamlessly and quickly as we can.

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