Ahead of November 8 midterm elections, Associated Press officials detail how they are covering the election and calling for votes

A voter at O’Connor Field House in Caldwell on Election Day. O’Connor had a long line in the May primary election, so Canyon County added additional polling places in Caldwell for November. Credit: Katherine Jones | Idaho Statesman

For more than 170 years, The Associated Press has been counting votes with great success and has planned for months to cover the 2022 midterm elections on November 8.

In the 2020 elections, AP was 99.9% accurate in its appeal to American races and 100% accurate in its appeal to presidential and congressional races. AP’s work to cover an election begins months in advance with electoral research. According to its website, AP employs a full-time election research staff who work year-round to ensure that the newsroom, decision-making desk, vote counters and the public know what to expect from the polls. polling day.

Stephen Ohlemacher, election decisions editor for AP, said his research team studies election laws and processes in each state.

“Elections are very complex in the United States because it’s not one big election, it’s 50 of them — actually 51 if you count the District of Columbia,” Ohlemacher said.

Ohlemacher, a 1989 Ohio State graduate, said one aspect of elections becoming increasingly important for research is early voting, as each state has its own rules regarding early and mail-in voting. . As the number of people voting early continues to grow, he said, it becomes more important to understand each state’s advanced voting processes.

“Forty-two percent of Americans voted before Election Day in 2016, 70% voted before Election Day in 2020,” Ohlemacher said.

Ohlemacher said it will be difficult to know how many people will vote in advance in this year’s midterm elections.

“I don’t think we’re going to come back in 2016,” Ohlemacher said. “I think a lot of people have decided they like voting by mail and its convenience, but I don’t think we’ll have 2020 anymore because, again, we’re in a different place in the pandemic. People are probably more comfortable going to a polling station.

Ohlemacher said on Election Day that he manages a large group of analysts who help report races. The group is made up of 60 people divided into teams.

Ohlemacher said that as they called the races, AP staffers were getting a lot of help not only from analysts in Washington, but also from individuals, known as “stringers,” stationed in counties across the country. country.

“There are approximately 4,300 counties and townships across the country,” Ohlemacher said. “We are sending 4,000 people there to talk directly to officials while they count the votes.”

Heidi Brown, election stringer coordinator for the AP, said “stringers” are an essential part of covering and calling an election.

“They’re either in the county election officer’s office to see how the process works when precincts report back, because election officials are counting the votes, and they’re also our audit,” Brown said. “It’s our eyes and our ears.”

Brown said the AP compares the numbers between the online vote tally and reports from stringers throughout the night. If there are any discrepancies, the stringers verify which tally is correct with the county election official.

Ohlemacher said AP election coverage is his favorite night of the year because he thinks it’s the greatest act of journalism in the United States.

“It’s the Super Bowl, and it’s absolutely fantastic,” Ohlemacher said. “The press room is in turmoil.”

Ohlemacher said some races cannot be called on election night because it takes “days or even weeks after Election Day” to count all the votes.

“It’s not new. It wasn’t new in 2020. It happened in more states in 2020,” Ohlemacher said.

Ohlemacher said the AP doesn’t make projections or predictions, and it values ​​being correct over being first.

“We say someone won, that’s our last word, and that’s what we promise our customers – that’s our standard,” Ohlemacher said. “Being first is not part of my mandate: my mandate is to be right.”

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