How do news organizations decide to ‘call’ a race?

Oct 12, 2020, 10:07 AM
call race mail-in ballot vote Utah homeless...
Election officials say resources are available to help make an informed choice prior to casting a vote in the November general election. (PHOTO: John Wojcik KSL NewsRadio)
(PHOTO: John Wojcik KSL NewsRadio)

Voters can expect a longer wait time for results from the Nov. 3 election, as mail-in voting is expanded to several states extending the deadline to Election Day.

Experts say it may take days, maybe weeks, before they declare a winner. 

As ballot counters tally the results, journalists and voters alike will stand by until races are called. But when are these races called — and how do experts know when to declare a winner?

The race to victory

In the presidential election, the victor is not decided by the popular vote. Rather, the presidency is handed to the candidate who wins the majority of the Electoral College. 

The president-elect needs 270 Electoral votes to win the election. Each state is granted one electoral vote for every individual representative serving in Congress. 

For Utah, the candidate who wins the popular vote statewide receives all its elector votes — six in total. 

If no candidate receives the majority from the Electoral College, the House of Representatives chooses the president from the top candidates — with the Senate choosing the vice president from the remaining contenders. 

How votes are counted

Ballot counters tabulate votes in the days leading up to the deadline, as well as throughout the night on Election Day. In Utah, voters can watch vote counts refresh every 60 seconds on the official election results webpage

Local news outlets rely on these numbers to report preliminary results. 

However, several news organizations — both local and national — depend on the Associated Press to tabulate and call races across the country.

How does AP do this? Here’s a breakdown of the process: 

Several local reporters develop first-hand knowledge in the weeks leading up to the election, relying on county clerks and local officials. Reporters also gather results from states or county websites, or electronic data feeds. 

The reporting staff will depend largely on two groups: stringers and vote entry clerks. Roughly 4,000 stringers — volunteers who actually count the ballots — will report to county election centers throughout Election Night. 

Over 800 vote entry clerks — those who key in the data for reporters to use — will phone into election centers to ask demographic questions and ensure accuracy. These election centers will be all-virtual in 2020. 

After the voting data is gathered, keyed in and fact-checked, the Associated Press will deliver the results — which are used by hundreds of news outlets across the country. These results are updated throughout the night and will continue for days until a race is called. 

To ensure accuracy in the process, vote entry clerks use a computer system that will set off alerts if there are suspected discrepancies or inconsistencies. 

How a race is “called”

As votes are counted, it often becomes clear who the winner will be. For some races, that’s not always the case. 

How do experts know when to call a race?

Again, many news outlets rely on the Associated Press to determine when a race is called. AP race callers are “deeply familiar” with the states in which they are declaring the winners. 

A race is called when it becomes clear the trailing candidate no longer has a path to victory. News outlets don’t typically call projections on who the “likely winner” is — waiting to call a race until it’s definite. 

Not all races are closely contested and can be called immediately after polls close. In other cases, it may take days before a winner is declared. 

It’s typical to see a candidate declare victory or concede before a race is officially called. When a candidate publicly concedes, AP may call the race even before the final votes are tabulated. 

“Too close to call”

In some cases, the race may be deemed “too close to call.” This happens when the vote tabulation has reached its primary conclusion — meaning all ballots have been counted except provisional and late-arriving ballots — without a clear winner. 

Typically, the Associated Press won’t declare a race as being “too close” unless it will be recounted. Instead, the news agency will deem it as “too early.” 

AP will not declare winners of races that are subject to a recount. 

Today’s Top Stories


Former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson wants his old job back. ...
Mark Jones

Rocky Anderson announces bid to run for SLC mayor in 2023

Former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson announced Wednesday that he is seeking reelection to get his old job back.
6 days ago
A ballot drop box is pictured. Those wanting to vote in the utah primary election can still vote in...
Sydnee Gonzalez

Analysis shows ‘sizable’ gap in Salt Lake’s west side/east side voter turnout

Voters on Salt Lake City's west side turned out for the 2022 midterms at a much lower rate than their east-side counterparts.
13 days ago
FILE: Former President Donald Trump, seen here on May 28, filed his paperwork on November 15 establ...
Gabby Orr and Fredreka Schouten, CNN

Former President Donald Trump says he’s launching another White House bid

On Tuesday, former President Donald Trump announced that he will run again for President in 2024.
21 days ago
Rep. Kevin McCarthy was nominated by a secret ballot of his peers to replace Rep. Nancy Pelosi if R...

McCarthy wins nomination for House speaker, but grind ahead

McCarthy won the nomination Tuesday from his GOP colleagues in a secret ballot election. But it's just the start.
21 days ago
utah house members...
Elizabeth Weiler

Utah welcomes new house members in both parties

There are three new party members in both the Utah House and Senate, and a full female line-up in the Utah Democrat's leadership.
21 days ago
Former U.S. President Donald Trump talks to the press on the grounds of his Mar-a-Lago resort on mi...
Gabby Orr and Steve Contorno, CNN

Trump is on the defense as he prepares for expected 2024 announcement

It's a concern Trump allies are confronting head on as they privately explore ways to make the monstrous pile of cash he has raised since leaving office available to him as a presidential candidate.
21 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...

5 game day snacks for the whole family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...

The best tools for Deaf and hard-of-hearing workplace success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
christmas decorations candles in glass jars with fir on a old wooden table...
Western Nut Company

12 Mason Jar Gift Ideas for the 12 Days of Christmas [with recipes!]

There are so many clever mason jar gift ideas to give something thoughtful to your neighbors or friends. Read our 12 ideas to make your own!
wide shot of Bear Lake with a person on a stand up paddle board...

Pack your bags! Extended stays at Bear Lake await you

Work from here! Read our tips to prepare for your extended stay, whether at Bear Lake or somewhere else nearby.
young boy with hearing aid...

Accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing

These different types of accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing can help them succeed in school.
How do news organizations decide to ‘call’ a race?