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Real-Time Voting Projections To Challenge Election Night Tradition

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A tradition in election night coverage will be challenged this year. Most U.S. broadcast news organizations have refrained from presenting projections and early results until the polls close in a time zone. But this year, Slate is working with a company called VoteCastr and will release voting information in real time on Election Day. Julia Turner is editor-in-chief at Slate. She joins us from their offices in Washington D.C.. Thanks very much for being with us.

JULIA TURNER: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: How does this even work? Because we think of polls, you know, they don't close until a certain hard time.

TURNER: Well, what we're planning to do here, and the group we're partnering with, VoteCastr, is going to use the method that's used by the campaigns themselves to track turnout and make projections on Election Day. So what they do is run a set of proprietary polls and surveys ahead of time to get a sense of how people are planning to vote. And then they track overall turnout at precincts. We're going to have maps up on the site tracking the particular states that we're tracking. We're not going to do all 50 states. We're going to focus on, we think, six or seven, then do some analysis and try and get a sense by focusing on key precincts how the race will go.

SIMON: So you think you might be able to make a - depending on how close the race is, you might be able to make a projection several hours before the polls close depending on the state.

TURNER: The big impulse here is not to call the race early on Election Day, and in fact, we're not planning to make any calls at all. What we're hoping to do in partnering with VoteCastr is to challenge the way that journalists think about covering Election Day and to offer voters more information as Election Day goes on. You know, the situation that we're living with right now, most media outlets operate under essentially a self-imposed embargo in which they don't cover turnout, how the race seems to be going, how things are looking, until the polls have closed. And that embargo has been in place for several decades. But I don't think there's very good reason for it.

The theory of the case is that publishing voting results or any kind of analysis like that early might perhaps depress turnout or affect the way people vote. But there's not really social science evidence that suggests that that's true, which leaves journalists in the very weird position of gathering information on Election Day and colluding with other outlets to withhold it from their audiences. And I don't think that's a good position for journalists to be in.

SIMON: At the same time, what's the crying need for this? I mean, what - have we been seriously misinformed because broadcast news outlets have tried to keep the cork in the bottle for just a few hours on Election Day?

TURNER: Well, I mean, one reason that I think it's worth doing this is that when campaigns gather and take stock of this information on Election Day, they use it to make game-day decisions about how to market to you, right? So if you're a voter in a key state, the campaigns in that state will look at the same kind of information we're going to be gathering and publishing. They'll decide to move their radio resources around. They might send you a couple push text messages. They are going to try and drive your voting behavior based on the information they're seeing about the race and how it's going. You know, I think one of the jobs of journalism is to make its users savvier and more aware of the marketing that they're subjected to. And I think that publishing the information we plan to publish could help do that.

SIMON: I'm going to return to the same question. I mean, how? What's the crying need for that?

TURNER: Well, I mean, I think isn't it useful for voters to see the election the way that insiders do? The campaigns are trying to get you to vote in a certain way, and they are pushing you. And if you can understand why and how they're doing that, maybe you can make a smarter decision.

SIMON: Julia Turner of Slate, thanks so much for being with us.

TURNER: Thank you.

SIMON: And tomorrow on Weekend Edition Sunday, does the press hold candidates to different standards? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.