Accuracy matters for elections: Why the expected vote number is so important

Our lives changed a lot with COVID-19. You don’t need anyone to tell you that.

As the world got used to a “new normal,” so did elections.

Voting used to mean long lines at a single polling place on that Tuesday in November. Now, there are more ways to vote than ever before: Mail-in ballots, absentee ballots, early voting and of course, in-person voting.

With the change in how people vote came the need to change how we analyze those votes.

In the past, the Associated Press used the number of precincts reporting to show about how much of the vote was left to tally.

Precincts are how a state, county, city or neighborhood is divided up for election day voting locations. Each precinct includes state, county, city and congressional district races specific to that geographic area.

That number is not so reliable anymore.

With all of the different ways people can vote, that also means there are many ways a precinct can count and report vote totals.

Just because a precinct reports results, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s finished counting them. While that number may show 99.9% of precincts reporting, the vote totals could change drastically throughout the night as the precincts count.

We’ve seen again and again how a small fraction of votes can change an election year.

So, to provide more a more accurate and reliable picture of vote counting, the AP is switching its mathematical equation to something more complex: The estimated percentage of votes.

The AP calculates this number based on a lot of different factors. They look at things like previous election turnout, details on early voting and other numbers along the way.

And this number is fluid. It can change throughout the evening to account for surprises. If voter turnout is greater than expected, the percentage will shift down, and if it’s less than expected, that number will increase.

AP will never publish an estimated vote total at 100% until the election is certified.

This gives us confidence of the most accurate and reliable information to pass along to you and your families.

While it’s impossible to predict the future, at Gray Television, we strive for integrity, honesty, transparency and above all, accuracy when we announce election results.