How the Associated Press calls winners on election night

Correction: A previous headline said the Associated Press makes race projections, however the AP does not project likely winners. It makes a race call when it determines there is no way for the other candidate to make up the difference in votes.

As polls close on election night and results come in, the NewsHour will rely on the Associated Press for race calls. The AP has more than 4,000 reporters on the ground in all 50 states monitoring vote totals to project election outcomes. AP Executive Editor Julie Pace joined Judy Woodruff to explain more about how and when races are called, and what to expect.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tomorrow night, as polls close and results come in, the "NewsHour" will rely on the Associated Press to call winners, as we have since this program began in 1975.

    This year, the AP has more than 4,000 reporters on the ground in all 50 states monitoring vote totals to determine election outcomes. Races only get called when the AP is certain that trailing candidates have no path to victory. In 2020, they were 100 percent correct in calling state results for Congress and the presidency.

    To help explain more about when and how races are called and what to expect tomorrow, I am joined by the executive editor of the Associated Press, Julie Pace.

    Julie Pace, welcome to the "NewsHour" on this night — or before the big night. Thank you so much for joining us.

    Four thousand reporters around the country, an enormous operation. Tell us — just give us a sense of how it works. How do you get to the point where you feel confident to make these calls?

  • Julie Pace, Executive Editor, Associated Press:

    Thanks, Judy.

    And we're really excited and very well prepared to be able to do what we have done since 1848 at the Associated Press, which is to declare winners in presidential races and down the ballot beyond, as we will do in these midterm elections here.

    So, this is really, I would say, the single biggest act of journalism in this country, as you say, 4,000 journalists who will be across this country, making sure that, as votes are being counted, that we're able to assess the accuracy of the elections, look at our models and declare winners.

    And our standard is certainty. We want to make sure that, when we call a race, that it's because there is no way that trailing candidate can catch up. And we do that because we spend the whole year. This is not just a one-night effort for us. We spend the whole year researching what the rules around voting are in each states, making — each state, making sure that, as those rules are changing, as procedures are changing, that our teams are across them.

    So we're very confident heading into this night. But we also want to be cautious. We know, again, that, when we call a race, it matters. It means that actually is the winner. We want the public to have confidence in that race call.

    And we feel like the work that we put in going into the night and the explaining that we will do coming out of those race calls about why we're calling the races, how we're making those decisions, we hope will also increase the public trust.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, who exactly makes the decision when a race is called?

  • Julie Pace:

    So, it depends on the level of the race.

    We're calling races up and down the ballot. So I personally will be involved in some of the highest-profile races. A team of senior editors in Washington will be involved in some of those high-profile races. We also have an excellent and experienced decision desk that is going to be signing off on several of the Senate and House races, and then our team of analysts, who really, again, spend weeks and months analyzing what's happening in the states that they oversee.

    Some of them have been doing this for years. This is definitely not their first rodeo. So it really ranges depending on the level of the race.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As you know, Julie Pace, there's a lot of interest in, a lot of questions this year about when races will be called, how soon we will know results.

    We know, in 2020, it took several days to get the results from Pennsylvania, for example. What should our viewers, should the American people expect this time?

  • Julie Pace:

    Yes, you're right, Judy.

    I think there are a lot of questions certainly about when the races are going to be called in why it may take a while. And I would say that I think that, just like 2020, I would urge your viewers to be patient. And that's not because anything will have gone wrong.

    I think that this is one of those things that is really important to keep in mind. Because of the changes to the ways that Americans are voting, more advanced vote, more mail-in voting, in some cases, it's simply taking longer for states, for counties to actually count those ballots.

    And so that may mean that it could take us longer at the AP to declare the winner of those races. If there's a large amount of mail-in vote that has not been counted yet and a race is very close, we want to wait for more of that vote to be counted. We think that's the only way to make sure that our race calls are fair and accurate. And that could mean waiting a couple of days.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, do I hear you saying that we may not know tomorrow night which party has won control of the House of the Senate?

  • Julie Pace:

    It is certainly possible. We want to wait for some votes to come in before we certainly make any predictions on timing.

    But it is certainly possible that we could go to bed tomorrow night or wake up on Wednesday morning and not know the outcomes there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And one last thing, and that has to do with what we know is this large, enormous, in fact, nationwide survey of voters, over 100,000 voters, that the AP is going to be talking to.

    Can you give us just a quick sense of what that's going to look like?

  • Julie Pace:


    This is something that I hope that a lot of your viewers will take advantage of in the hours coming into election night tomorrow and coming out of it, which is really VoteCast. It's our survey of the American electorate.

    And this allows us to not just tell who won these races, but to tell you how they won, how Americans were voting, to be able to look at how different demographics of the American electorate were participating in this election.

    And given how divided this country is right now, given how many questions there are about which messages are appealing to which voters, we think that this is just as important as the actual results and should tell us a lot about where this country goes coming out of the midterms into the 2024 presidential election, which, as we all know, will start pretty quickly after the midterms.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I know people will be hungry for information to understand how the election turned out as it did.

    Julie Pace, executive editor of the Associated Press, thank you very much.

  • Julie Pace:

    Thank you, Judy.

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