This particular involves both real-time results in addition to information via exit polls. CNN, NBC, ABC in addition to CBS work with the polling firm Edison Research in what is usually known as the National Election Pool for results in addition to exit polling data. Fox News in addition to the Associated Press have a separate arrangement.
CNN’s Brian Stelter recently interviewed Washington Bureau Chief Sam Feist on “Reliable Sources” about how CNN projects races in addition to how the process will be different This particular year. A transcript of in which conversation, edited slightly for length, is usually below.
Separately, I also spoke with Jennifer Agiesta, CNN’s director of polling in addition to election analytics, who runs the network’s decision desk. Keep reading for her views.
This particular year is usually different
BRIAN STELTER: This particular is usually — Sam, This particular is usually, what, your eighth presidential election at CNN, right?
SAM FEIST, CNN WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Right. 1992 was the first one.
STELTER: There’s a lot in which hasn’t changed in terms of the decision desk process. What is usually the biggest X factor This particular year in which makes you in addition to your colleagues think we need to explain This particular more about how the election works?
FEIST: This particular is usually going to be an election like no some other. You’ve heard in which over in addition to over. nevertheless I’m not sure in which the counting or reporting of the votes are going to be a whole lot different. In fact, I think there’s every reason to believe This particular’s going to be orderly.
Obviously, This particular year, because of the mail-in ballots, as a result of the pandemic, This particular could take a little bit longer, right? This particular takes longer to count mail-in ballots. They have to be opened. They have to be processed. Some states don’t begin processing mail-in ballots until Election Day, so This particular could take a little longer.
nevertheless I actually believe in which if we don’t have a winner on election night, there’s a very not bad possibility in which we’re going to know the answer on Wednesday or Thursday because the vast majority of votes will have been counted by then.
How do we get election returns?
STELTER: Let’s get into the weeds about the counting. So the local precincts inside states, they count — they count the votes. in addition to then what happens with the news media, thousands of individuals decentralized across the country in which are getting in which data in addition to feeding This particular to you in addition to your colleagues of the decision desk?
FEIST: in which’s right. Local officials across the country at the county, city, township level, or sometimes at the state level, they count in addition to publicly report the votes. in addition to then all across the country, the National Election Pool in addition to the Associated Press, for in which matter, send out reporters to learn about in addition to report the votes.
The votes come back to a central tabulating center for us, in addition to then we of course, report them to the — to the viewers. in addition to in which happens throughout the night, in addition to then This particular will continue happening in addition to always does after election night is usually over because votes continue to come in. Mail in in addition to absentee votes continue to be received. in addition to in which will happen for days after. in addition to then when all the votes are counted, we report all the results, in addition to This particular’s as simple as in which.
STELTER: There’s some misconceptions about how This particular works. For example, the exit polls, there are tens of thousands of interviews with voters after they vote to get a sense of why they voted the way they did. nevertheless, you know, networks do not use exit polls alone to make projections in addition to close races. So, I think we should — we should debunk in which myth right today.
Also on screen here, the networks do not compete to be first to announce projections. today, I feel like inside year 2000, there was a concern in which in which did happen. What about 2020?
FEIST: So, you were right in which in 2000, I think in which there may have been some competition between networks to be first. nevertheless I have not seen in which as long as I’ve been doing This particular. I’ve been doing This particular working with the decision team since 2004, in addition to there is usually no race to be first. There’s a race to be right, which is usually not a race at all. This particular’s far more important to be right than to be first.
in addition to I actually can assure you in which the decision teams at the networks are not in a competition with each some other. They’re largely in sync with each some other. One network may be slightly ahead in one state, one network may be slightly ahead in another state, nevertheless This particular’s actually the votes in which drive the decisions. When there’s enough votes in a particular state to give the decision team the confidence in which in which person is usually going to win, then they can announce a projection. So, you will not see a race This particular year, nor should you, in addition to in which’s a not bad thing for the public.
STELTER: I think This particular’s interesting in which there are two different systems, two different groups doing all of This particular. in addition to in which’s fresh inside past few years. You possess the National Election Pool, including CNN, in addition to then This particular kind of competitor on the market, AP Votecast. Maybe This particular’s a not bad thing, though, This particular year to have two different groups assembling the results, because This particular’s kind of a check in addition to balance in addition to might give people more confidence inside results.
FEIST: Yes. I wouldn’t actually call This particular a competitor. I would likely suggest in which there — the two organizations are working in parallel, the National Election Pool in addition to the Associated Press. Each will be independently obtaining the vote count via around the country. in addition to I think in which they in some ways provide a check on each some other because when the public sees in which two independent media consortiums, two independent media outlets report the votes in addition to they’re very similar, I think in which’s a confidence builder in addition to in which’s something in which we need in This particular election. So, I don’t actually see them as competitors. I see them as working in parallel in addition to in which’s not bad thing.
Have patience, America. This particular could take a while.
STELTER: Typically 11:00 p.m. is usually the earliest time — 11:00 p.m. eastern time — in which an election will be called because the western states have closed their polls. is usually there any chance of a projection at 11:00 p.m. on November 3?
FEIST: Yes, of course there’s a chance of a projection. This particular is usually possible in addition to we tend to make projections early on election night if the race is usually not close particularly in those battleground states, so This particular is usually possible. nevertheless This particular is usually entirely possible in which there won’t be a projection on election night.
You know, people forget in which in two of the last several elections, we have gone to bed without a president-elect. Everyone remembers 2000 where Florida was the deciding state in addition to then This particular was too close to call on election night, in addition to we didn’t know, in addition to This particular took another 31 days.
nevertheless the very next election was 2004, in addition to in in which case, Ohio was the state in which was going to be decisive in addition to we did not have enough votes in to project a winner on election night, so we waited. in addition to This particular was midday the next day when enough results were clear in Ohio in which George W. Bush won Ohio in addition to was reelected. So, This particular is usually not unusual for elections to not be decided on Election Day, especially This particular year because mail-in ballots take longer to count. You have to open them, you have to process them, in addition to so This particular could be in which we don’t know until Wednesday or Thursday or even later. nevertheless I think the vast majority of the votes inside country will be counted by late inside election week, so I believe in which we will likely know a winner. This particular just may not be on election night.
in addition to in which’s OK. in which doesn’t mean anything is usually wrong. The public, the media, the candidates just need to be a little bit patient.
What if a candidate prematurely declares victory?
STELTER: Right. We need to tell people to have patience. A slow count is usually a safe count. nevertheless you know, we don’t know what’s going to happen in terms of Florida or some other key states, what’s going to happen with the turnout in those votes. What about let’s say This particular’s midnight or 1:00 a.m., in addition to Donald Trump comes out in addition to says I am the winner of the election, in addition to our data does not back in which up at all, what will CNN do?
FEIST: If we have not projected enough states for a candidate to get to 270 electoral votes, in addition to a candidate comes out in addition to declares victory, we will make This particular clear in which the facts do not back up in which claim of victory. in addition to we’ll do This particular in many ways. If you’ve watched CNN’s election night, John King at the magic wall spends an awful lot of election night explaining why we haven’t projected a winner in a particular state.
in addition to he goes county by county, reveals how many votes are left to come in, how many votes have been counted, which counties have not reported much votes. This particular year, of course, we will layer in absentee votes throughout the night in our conversation. in addition to if we’re not ready to project the state — we’re not ready to project the state, in which doesn’t mean in which anything is usually wrong.
in addition to we will make This particular clear to our viewers in addition to our readers, in which there’s simply not enough information to make a projection, in addition to in which the candidate, if a candidate goes out in addition to declares a winner — declares victory ahead of time, in which they are doing This particular before the votes have been counted, before — in which is usually based in fact.
Everyone is usually looking at the same results, including Fox News
STELTER: Yes, the candidates won’t know anything more than the networks. They won’t have any magic data in which the networks won’t have access to.
FEIST: in which’s correct.
STELTER: Sam, what about Fox? What about Fox News? is usually the decision desk at Fox trustworthy given in which elsewhere at the network you’ve got propagandists like Sean Hannity who might try to side with Trump in some sort of election tug of war?
FEIST: All of the networks have excellent decision teams. These are made up of political scientists in addition to data scientists. Jenn Agiesta, who runs the CNN decision team, is usually our polling director. She’s been working with our decision team for many years. in addition to in which is usually true at all of the networks. The public has every reason to have confidence inside decision teams of the networks.
in addition to my advice to everybody, all of the politicians, the partisans, the commentators, the analysts, wait for the projections via the networks in addition to the Associated Press, in addition to don’t get out ahead of them. These are the experts in which the country has come to depend on over time.
in addition to any analysts in which think they know more than these decision desks in which have been doing This particular for 30 years is usually wrong. They just don’t. in addition to I would likely have a lot of confidence inside decision desks. in addition to in which they will be patient — they are going to take their time, in addition to they’re not going to get ahead of themselves. So, I would likely give in which advice to everybody on election night.
No one knows what will happen
STELTER: Bottom line here is usually This particular’s about patience, in addition to about not assuming we know what’s going to happen. There’s a lot of people assuming the worst, in addition to in which’s not a not bad idea. nevertheless we should also be prepared for a lot of different possibilities. is usually in which fair?
FEIST: in which’s correct. in which’s absolutely right. in addition to we just have to give the — those — local election authorities the time to count the vote. In many states, they may have time to do This particular on election night. In some other states, because of state election laws where they can’t begin counting absentee ballots until Election Day, just give them time. This particular may take a day or a few days. Give them time. They will count the votes, in addition to then we’ll all know.
Agiesta on the specific things the decision desk considers
WHAT MATTERS: What are the specific metrics you’re looking for to project a race? is usually there a magic threshold by which you’re able to say there’s no way a particular candidate can overcome This particular?
AGIESTA: There isn’t any magic involved in projecting races, sadly, This particular’s actually all math. There are many things we are looking for in each state to have confidence in a projection. Most important is usually what’s been counted: Where are the votes coming via geographically within the state, what types of votes are included inside count, in addition to how much of the total vote does the count represent right today?
If there’s a clear lead for one candidate inside current count, nevertheless none of the votes via the strongest part of the state for the trailing candidate aren’t in yet, in which margin likely won’t hold up. If instead there is usually not bad geographic representation inside vote, in which’s a point in favor of a projection.
If everything in which’s been counted is usually absentee in addition to early votes, or all Election Day votes, there won’t be a clear picture of how all the votes will look when both types of vote are included. Some of both are needed for projections in closer races.
in addition to the amount of vote left to count is usually critical, in addition to may be a more difficult piece of information to track down in 2020. in which’s more difficult For just two reasons. First, the increase in vote by mail, in addition to the number of ballots which may have been mailed in time for Election Day, nevertheless are received by election officials afterward. There is usually no way to know on election night exactly how many of those there are. in addition to second is usually the decreased value in knowing the number of precincts reporting. There are fewer people voting on Election Day in most places in addition to some states are consolidating precincts, so comparisons of the number of people voting in a particular precinct today to the past are less valuable, in addition to This particular may be harder to get a not bad read on Election Day turnout before a county or town is usually fully reported.
This particular is usually also valuable to compare what we know about the vote today to what’s happened in a state or county inside past in terms of both turnout in addition to who they’re voting for. Whether those patterns remain the same or are changing This particular year will help to determine when we can make a projection.
What states are key to a presidential projection?
WHAT MATTERS: is usually there one specific state you’re looking at This particular year as a bellwether for the presidential race?
Agiesta: This particular’s difficult to narrow This particular down to one state, nevertheless there are generally two types of states in which election analysts are looking to This particular year, in addition to one state within each type in which is usually most critical for determining the president. One set are fast-growing, traditionally Republican, Sun Belt states where Democrats have been gaining ground as the makeup of the population has changed. Arizona, North Carolina in addition to Florida are emblematic of those trends, in addition to within those three, Florida is usually most critical to the electoral fortunes of either presidential candidate. The some other set are Northern states in which have been Democratic in recent presidential elections nevertheless broke for Trump in 2016. These states — Michigan, Pennsylvania in addition to Wisconsin — have sizable populations of White voters without college degrees in addition to economies in which have had to change as the economy in America has shifted. In in which group, Pennsylvania is usually the powerhouse in electoral votes.
What about the Senate?
WHAT MATTERS: You’re not just looking at the presidential race — control of the Senate is usually also up for grabs. Will you be projecting Senate races in addition to is usually the process different there?
Agiesta: Yes, we will project all those Senate races, as well as gubernatorial contests inside 11 states where those will be held. Projections for downballot races follow the same procedures as presidential races. We’re looking at how much we know about all the different types of vote in which are out there, where inside state those votes have come via, how they compare to what we know about votes there inside past, in addition to what we know about what’s left to count. We need the same type of confidence in in which information about Senate in addition to gubernatorial contests as we do for the presidential races.