Inside look: How WDIV collects, reports election results, what to expect

Michigan voting tabulator in 2020.

There has been much talk about election results and how they will be reported this year, given the massive increase in mail-in ballots in Michigan (more than one million).

So we thought we’d take a minute to explain how election night reporting works in our newsroom, and offer a glimpse of what to expect on election night this year.

The crux of what to know: Expect delays.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said last week to expect delays in reporting results on election night due to the extra time it’ll take to count the mail ballots. And it makes sense -- it takes much more time to tabulate mail ballots.

In Michigan, clerks can process -- but not count -- mail-in ballot, within two days of election day. This is new this year, and should help speed up the counting.

How it works on Election Night

There are two main ways we get results reported to you.

One, for the uber-local races, like city council, local proposals, school boards and millages, 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.

Michigan’s election reporting system is super disconnected -- meaning, there isn’t a central hub in the state where results are being reported. It’s all at the local level. But in other states, like Texas for example, results are reported to one state agency, and then distributed from there, to news outlets and residents. This makes reporting results more difficult in Michigan.

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 key races the governor, attorney general and U.S. House 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.

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 typically declare victory.

In every election, calls are made before all votes are counted. You’ve probably seen this many times. The calls are based on several factors, like historical data, exit polling and expert analysis. 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, and you should expect results to fluctuate.
  • 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.

You can bookmark this page right here for election night results, once polls close on Tuesday.

More: Michigan general election 2022: What to expect on election night, results


About the Author:

Ken Haddad is the digital content and audience manager for WDIV / ClickOnDetroit.com. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters. He's been with WDIV since 2013. He enjoys suffering through Lions games on Sundays in the fall.