Election 2020: How WDIV reports election results

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This article first appeared in the Morning Report Newsletter. Sign up for it here.

There has been much talk about election results and how they will be reported this year, given the massive increase in mail-in ballots around the country.

Clerks around the U.S. have said that results will take longer to fully report due to the time it takes to count mail ballots, many of which cannot even be opened until polls close in any specific state. And it makes sense -- it takes much more time to tabulate mail ballots.

I figured it would be helpful to explain how we report election results, even in a weird year with more variables than a normal election.

How it works

There are two main ways we get results reported to you. One, for the uber-local races, like city council or local proposals, we collect the results from local clerk offices, and manually input and update that data. We have an entire team of people dedicated to this. They work overnight and into the morning, updating races from across the area.

Another way is through our partnership with The Associated Press. The AP has been a main source of election results for news agencies around the U.S. for decades. The AP’s sprawling election night operation compiles the vote from across the United States, as it has since 1848. For us, the AP will likely make calls on who wins Michigan in the presidential race, the U.S. Senate race, and our 14 Congressional races.

The AP’s tradition of counting votes on election night dates back to the Pony Express. The news cooperative organizes more than 4,000 reporters and stringers across the country to collect vote counts at town and county offices, who phone them in to a staff of more than 800 vote entry clerks. The raw numbers are double-checked with software that points out anomalies.

In 2016, the AP declared at 2:29 a.m. the morning after the election that Trump had won Wisconsin and, thus, the presidency. The AP faced intense pressure from news organizations who depend on it in the early morning after the 2000 election, when television networks declared George W. Bush the new president.

The AP didn’t do likewise, believing the vote in Florida was too close to call. The AP never did call the 2000 election; the Supreme Court did. (Read more about the AP’s election plan here)

WDIV does not call winners or losers in elections, until either the AP calls it, or all votes are counted. It’s also worth noting that campaigns and/or candidates do not declare victory.

In every election, calls are made before all votes are counted. You’ve probably seen this many times. For instance, it’s likely that when polls close in New York on Tuesday, the AP will call it for Joe Biden, before even one vote is counted. But the votes are still counted, and even in a typical year, it may take a day or two to fully finish counting.

So for Election Night -- here’s what you should expect:

  • You will see results on Election Night, but you won’t see as many races called as you would in a normal year. This doesn’t mean anything fishy is going on -- it just means that news organizations -- like the AP -- will likely wait for more mail-in votes to be counted before making a call.
  • It will take days to know the full results in some cities and states. There is no law that states results need to be reported on the same day as the election. Delays happen in every election.
  • We’ll know the answer eventually. Plenty of races will be called. There may be a few hanging in the balance in the days following the election -- but every vote deserves to be counted.

Have a question about elections or results? Email me. I’m happy to answer anything.

💻 Sign up for Election Results: We’re hard at work preparing for Election Night -- and want you to be equipped with the results you need. Sign up to get Election Results delivered right to your inbox on Election Night.

About the Author:

Ken Haddad has proudly been with WDIV/ClickOnDetroit since 2013. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters, and helps lead the WDIV Insider team. He's a big sports fan and is constantly sipping Lions Kool-Aid.