The unprecedented, pandemic-era 2020 election is bringing increased scrutiny to how the news media report the vote count and project who will be the next president.
The National Task Force on Election Crises, a consortium of election experts and academics, is urging major media outlets to detail how they plan to account for the expected surge of mail ballots in how they project winners, and are pleading for caution with calling a victor when results may still be inconclusive on election night.
The task force sent letters Wednesday evening to The Associated Press, Fox News and the National Election Pool, which includes the three broadcast networks and CNN, calling for the outlets to detail four things publicly: how they’re adapting their underlying exit polling data and voter surveys to account for an increase in mail ballots; how they’ll contextualize discrepancies from results released on Election Day and final results; how they’ll protect their decision desks from internal and external pressure on making election calls; and how they’ll cover a politician who declares victory before the outlets project a winner.
“We know that there is a furious race to call the winner in every election cycle. But this year needs to be different,” Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the head of policy and strategy at the Emes Project and a former editor at The Washington Post, said via a spokesperson for the group. “With such a large number of absentee ballots that will be cast in so many battleground states, the rush to be first could result in getting it wrong.”…
Of particular concern to the task force is how outlets will project winners in races in states that will see a wave of mail ballots with no historical precedent. Many decision desks rely, in part, on historical data to model the electorate — but states that have seen past mail voting rates in the single digits could climb as high as half of all voters this cycle.
“With a record number of mail-in and absentee ballots expected this election cycle because of the coronavirus pandemic, it is imperative for newsrooms to be transparent about their modeling and how they are accounting for an increase in vote by mail,” Avery Davis-Roberts, the associate director of the democracy program at The Carter Center and a member of the task force, said in a statement. “If the American electorate understands how the media will be addressing these challenges, they will have more trust in our democratic process.”
We made a similar recommendation in our Fair Elections During a Crisis report.