This video was made possible by Dashlane. Browse the internet faster and easier by signing
up for free at dashlane.com/Wendover. On November 3rd, 2020, hundreds of millions
of Americans will all make their way to their local polling stations to cast their votes—deciding
who will be the next President of the United States of America. That day will be the cumulation of a multi-year,
multi-billion dollar election process, but before that all truly ends, the votes need
to be counted and the winner has to be declared. As soon as the first polls close at 6:00 PM
eastern time, there begins a massive overnight exercise to count hundreds of millions of
votes and, typically, declare who will next lead the country by the early hours of the
following morning. While the true effort doesn’t start until
the early evening of voting day, the first results come in the early morning of election
day, before most polls have even opened. A few small towns on the East Coast—most
famously Dixville Notch, New Hampshire—all compete to be the first precinct in the US
to report results. New Hampshire state law allows polling places
in the state to close early as long as all registered voters have cast their ballots. Given that the town only has a dozen or so
registered voters, this process is typically finished in minutes or seconds. In front of a cluster of cameras from nearly
every major news organization, the votes are read out and tallied. The process of counting a dozen or so paper
ballots in a small town is not tough, but a few hours later, the rest of the country’s
polling locations will open—each of which eventually has to accurately count up to thousands
of votes. What makes the US election so difficult to
conduct right is that there are over 178,000 individual voting precincts, each of which
can and does do things in a slightly different way. Some use paper ballots that have to be read
and interpreted manually, some use paper ballots that are scanned by a machine, some use electronic
voting machines, and some even allow for absentee voting over the internet. The selection of a voting method is a difficult
balancing act—hand-written paper ballots are simple and cheap which means that a polling
station can process loads of voters at once, but they’re much more difficult to count. Electronic voting machines are expensive and
complicated meaning they’re often in short supply, leading to longer lines, but counting
and reporting the votes happens almost instantaneously. Also a major concern in the selection of voting
method is security. The most secure ballot is no doubt a handwritten
paper one, as submitting a fraudulent vote involves physically acquiring and submitting
a ballot—something that can’t be easily done at a large scale. Arguably the least secure method is electronic
voting machines as anything electronic can be hacked. Almost every voting machine out there has
been hacked in some way or another in controlled experiments at hacker conventions such as
Defcon. In the real world, it’s impossible to know
for sure how often voting security has been compromised, but we do know that these machines
can be hacked which is why still today much of the US votes the same way it did hundreds
of years ago—on paper ballots. First to close their polling places will be
parts of Indiana and Kentucky at 6:00 PM eastern. The second that happens, everything shifts
into counting mode. Both states use a mix of optical scan and
direct record electronic voting machines. For example, the majority of Kentucky’s
machines are Hart InterCivic eScan’s. These are those optical scan electronic machines
where a voter physically fills out a paper ballot, shading in bubbles for their preferred
candidates, then feeds the sheet into a machine which scans the responses, and then records
and tallies the votes. In Indiana, however, the majority of their
machines are Microvote Infinity’s, which are examples of direct record electronic machines. These are fully electronic machines where
the voter selects their candidates of choice on the screen before pressing a button to
cast their votes. Once 6:00 PM rolls around, though, the machines’
voting modes will be turned off, they will print out a physical paper backup displaying
the tally of votes for each candidate, and the poll workers will remove a sort of memory
device that stores the totals. Every step of this process has to be witnessed
by multiple people, usually of different political parties. These papers and memory devices are all then
packed up in sealed envelopes and gathered together. From there, the votes need to make it to a
central vote-counting location. Usually, they’re driven there by the county’s
police to assure there is no interference. That works in most places, but not all. For example, anyone who’s been in Los Angeles
in the early evening, when their polls close, knows that it would take hours to get a vehicle
from Gorman, on the northern end of Los Angeles County, to Norwalk, where votes are tallied. Therefore, the county uses helicopters to
fly voting records to Norwalk from across the county, and therefore ends up spending
many millions of dollars on each election day. Traffic is less of a concern in Indiana and
Kentucky, though, and so, not long after 6:00 PM eastern, votes will start arriving at their
central counting locations where all the memory devices will be plugged into a tabulating
computer that will record the results. They’ll also add in the results from early
and absentee voting as well. Given the electronic nature of this count,
once votes have physically arrived at the site, the process doesn’t take long, but
throughout it all, it will be observed by a bipartisan grouping of poll workers and
officials. Of course, the way the world hears about the
results of the election is not via the government itself, but rather through the media. Almost always, the media tells the public
who will win the election before all the votes have come in, and they make this call based
off two key pieces of information. The first is election-day polling. There are two competing systems of polling. The first is the Associated Press’ VoteCast
system—a relatively new method where voters are polled at home via the internet and phone
in the days leading up to election day—and the second is the National Election Pool system
used by ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC. This system uses the more traditional exit-poll
method where individuals leaving polling stations are asked who they voted for, in an attempt
to gather a representative sample. Both of these systems give media organizations
an idea of how voters are leaning on election day, and help them know where the results
are likely to swing. The second major data-point used to project
election results are the results themselves. A small sampling of results from a county
should be roughly representative of the county’s results overall. The Associated Press stations about 4,000
of its reporters in vote-counting centers all across the country, and as soon as these
counties report results, the reporters call them in to the AP’s office in Spokane, Washington. There, one of hundreds of data entry personnel
will answer the phone and put the information into the AP’s system. These data, which may at the time of entry
be unofficial, are used by news organizations all around the world. Throughout the rest of the night, results
will come in precinct by precinct and the AP will call the results precinct by precinct. The last polls close at 1:00 AM eastern time
in Alaska, however, more than likely, the country will already know who has won the
election by that time. The AP’s DC bureau is in charge of calling
the race. They’ll one-by-one declare each state won
for one candidate or the other. Some states they’ll know from the second
polls close which way they’ll go. For example, in 2016, the highly democratic
states of Massachusetts, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland along with the District of Columbia
were all called for Clinton by the AP the very minute polls closed in those places at
8:00 pm eastern. The AP just knew off of historical voting
trends and exit polling that they would certainly go blue. Meanwhile, battleground states, with a fairly
even mix of democrats and republicans, tend to be trickier to call and require a good
proportion of actual results to come in. For example, Minnesota’s results in 2016
weren’t called until 11:09 AM eastern and Alaska’s not until 11:58 AM eastern on the
day after the election. Far before the last state is called, through,
the combination of electoral votes designated to the called states will exceed the required
majority, 270, and at that time, the AP will send out what they call a, “flash.” These are the very highest tier of AP alerts,
reserved for, as they describe it, events they, “expect to be one of the very top
stories of the year.” The AP averages less than two flashes a year,
and such an alert has been used for events like the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the resignation
of Pope Benedict, and the death of Nelson Mandela. It is not always the AP who is the first to
call the race, but more often than not, they are the first major news organization to declare
a winner. Historically, this tends to happen between
9:00 and 11:00 pm eastern, but sometimes much later, and sometimes much earlier. From there, tradition kicks in and the loser
calls the winner, the winner throws a party, and the next day the sitting President calls
the President elect. The true, official results might not come
in for days or weeks as the states work to tally every vote—not reliant on probability. The moment that happens, though, the clocks
reset and the US and world again begins the four-year process leading up to the election
of the next American president. When evaluating products I might use, like
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Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

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