How can the AP call US midterm races just as the polls close?

Al Jazeera is using Associated Press data to determine midterm election race winners.

Woman walking into door of building which casts a light onto the path outside and the close-up blurred sign saying: 'Polling place'
A voter walks into a polling site at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, hours before polls close in the midterm election [David Goldman/AP Photo]

Almost immediately after polls for the midterm elections closed across the United States on Tuesday, The Associated Press has been able to declare winners in some races.

How is that possible before any results are released? Let’s take a look at how the AP can declare a winner before the first ballots are counted.

First, a quick refresher on why and how the AP does this work.

The country’s founders did not set up a national agency for counting the vote. Each state does it a little differently.

On election night, the AP counts the nation’s votes, tallying the results of millions of ballots, as reported by local election officials, to come up with the overall total for thousands of races. It has been done like that since 1848 when the AP counted the vote that ended with the election of Zachary Taylor as president.

How the tally is counted includes tonnes of preparation, journalists in all 50 US states and a network of roughly 4,000 stringers, or temporary freelancers.

So, what about those race calls that land as the moment polls close — before any votes have officially been counted?

Some are in uncontested races or those with only one candidate on the ballot. And then there are races with multiple candidates, but in which a party or candidate has a past history of consistent and convincing wins.

In these states, the AP can use results from AP VoteCast, a survey of the US electorate aimed at determining why voters voted how they did, to confirm a candidate’s victory.

“The results from the poll — along with our analysis of early voting and other statistics — confirm our expectation that longstanding political trends in these states will hold,” said David Scott, a senior editor who helps oversee AP’s coverage of elections.

Still, the AP will not call the winner of a race before the last polls close in a jurisdiction, including in states where the polls do not all close at once.

The AP does not make projections and will only declare a winner when it has determined there is no scenario that would allow the trailing candidates to close the gap — even if one candidate has claimed victory and others have conceded, Scott said. He noted declarations of victory can be premature and concessions can be withdrawn.

“It’s only when we determine that the trailing candidates no longer have a path to victory that we call a race and send the APNewsAlert declaring that a candidate has won,” Scott said. “In a small number of cases, that can happen as soon as all polls are closed.”

Source: AP