Real-time election day projections defy tradition, cause worry

Americans now have a way to look at polling numbers the same way campaigns do: in real-time.

Starting Tuesday morning, VoteCastr promises to deliver up-to-the-minute data from around the country available online at Slate and broadcast from Vice News.

VoteCastr won’t rely on the traditionally used exit polls, but instead its own turnout data combined with pre-election polling to project current vote totals.

This is the same way that presidential campaigns collect data throughout Election Day, but voters don’t usually see any data until races begin closing.

VoteCastr’s editorial director, Sasha Issenberg, told Recode that the company won’t use data to project who will win. Instead, the data will act like a football stadium scorecard, to identify who is winning at that moment.

This defies the long-held tradition of media organizations to withhold releasing early results, instead waiting until a majority of polls have closed to call battleground states.

Some fear that real-time presidential predictions in battleground states could suppress voter turnout. If a potential voter sees one candidate is leading from earlier in the day, they may decide not to vote, critics say.

However, Julia Turner, editor-in-chief of Slate, told the New York Times the current method was “ill conceived and anti-journalistic.”

The current style of reporting polls that now seems traditional and restrained was controversial in the 1980s, when Congress pressured television networks to impose blackouts on Eastern state results until polls had closed in other time zones.

That year, California voters reportedly left the lines after television networks began calling the race in favor of Reagan. The call was made after President Jimmy Carter conceded, but network presidents were still brought before Congress.

Network presidents were again summoned to Capitol Hill in 2000 after originally calling Florida for Al Gore, before the state’s voting had ended. The networks later reversed to George W. Bush and finally determined the state was “too close to call.” After an intense recount process and the Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore, George W. Bush officially won Florida, giving him the election.

“Politicians from Western states have been very critical of any attempt to project election outcomes and report election outcomes before voters in their states have had a chance to cast their votes,” said Joe Lenski, executive vice president of Edison Research, told the Times.

Turner said Slate will go out of its way to publish the data with “caveats” that the data are snapshots, not decided totals. The group simply wants to show “where things stand,” she said.

“The appeal is not to out-CNN CNN or declare the election over at 10 a.m. on Election Day.”

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