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How The AP Calls Election Winners

This election, NPR and many local affiliates, including stations within the New England News Collaborative, will count on The Associated Press to call the winner of the presidential race and other key contests in the U.S.

To make its call, the AP deploys a network of stringers and analysts in all 50 states to examine the vote tallies as they come in from local and county clerks.

Julie Pace, Washington bureau chief for The Associated Press, said there’s not one single metric they rely on to call a race but a multitude of factors, ranging from a region’s election history to the percentage of the vote that still needs to be tallied.

“The real benchmark that we look for is, is there any possible way that the trailing candidate can catch up?” Pace told NEXT.

Once the data is in, the AP’s decision desk makes the final call. That information is then reported to media outlets -- and voters -- across the country.

With an increase in mail-in voting due to the pandemic, there could be delays declaring the winner in certain races.

“That is OK,” Pace said. “There’s no rule that we have to have a winner declared on [Nov. 3]. We declare a winner when we know enough about the vote count.”

Pace stressed that a delay in calling a race does not mean there’s an issue with the vote. It likely indicates that not enough ballots have been counted and the contest is still too close to call.

The AP will call more than 7,000 races this year.

Resources:

This interview was featured in an episode of NEXT. Click to hear the entire episode.

Morgan Springer is the host/producer for the weekly show NEXT and the New England News Collaborative, a ten-station consortium of public radio newsrooms. She joined WNPR in 2019. Before working at Connecticut Public Radio, Morgan was the news director at Interlochen Public Radio in northern Michigan, where she launched and co-hosted a weekly show Points North.

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