Open Letter to the Networks: Don’t “Call” a Winner in Ohio Tonight

Members of the media,

You are well aware that this is a close election, and that the winner of the electoral count will likely depend on the outcome in an equally close Ohio. This American is concerned about you prematurely “calling” a winner in the buckeye state. I am worried that a certain candidate may lack the spine to stand up for his supporters who stood in lines for hours to cast a votes that may remain uncounted.

In short, because Ohio by law does not count provisional ballots until more than a week after election day, the media uses an estimate of provisional ballot results based on recent (2004, 2008) elections’ totals.  This year, the partisan allocation and total number of provisional ballots in Ohio will possibly be very different than the numbers used in your flawed estimate.

According to several reports, today’s vote has seen an explosion in the number of provisional ballots cast in Ohio.   For one example, see here.

As, I have previously written:

 

Voters facing challenges on election day may be directed to use provisional ballots. It sounds like a fair compromise. Your provisional ballot will still count right? Well, yes and no. It will likely be counted … eventually. It will not be counted for the purposes of “calling” a winner for Ohio on election night. The candidate will have to decide whether to concede by comparing the margin of victory to the number of outstanding provisional ballots left uncounted. These numbers they rely on are not an official count, but based on a form of media estimate. The procedure used by the media for calling an election is unprepared for an abnormal spike in the number of provisional ballots.

For example the Associated Press (AP) does not wait for provisional ballots when reporting unofficial results (calling the winner) on election night, but at least they know it is an issue and try to account for it in their numbers:

Race callers also need procedures to track provisional votes, an election night wrinkle that grew out of the post-2000 election reforms. AP held back from calling Ohio—and with it the presidency—in 2004 because of the uncertainty over how many provisional ballots had been cast and how they might break. This year, there will be provisional voting history from 2004, 2006 and 2008 to guide race callers in close elections.

There is the problem. They are making a huge assumption that the number of provisional ballots and their outcomes will track with recent election years.

 

Again, we’ve seen the reports today showing it is likely we’re going to have a much larger number of provisional ballots cast this election than in 2008.  Consider this if you’re not convinced yet.  In 2008, the Ohio elections were overseen by Democrats Ted Strickland (governor) and Jennifer Brunner (secretary of state).  The 2012 election is run by Republicans John Kasich (governor) and the notorious Jon Husted.

That team added this wrinkle, among others, to Ohio’s election process.

A new wild card this year is the [Ohio] secretary of state sent out absentee ballot applications to everyone in the state. Anyone who asked for an absentee ballot, but hasn’t returned one, if they go to the polls, they will have to cast a provisional ballot. This could add thousands of people, casting provisional ballots which won’t be counted until November 17.

So, Major Networks, Media, etc., you are on notice that the American people are aware of your election “calling” practices, and we know how flawed they are this year.  Do not take the outcome into your hands tonight.  If it is that close, do what you can to stay out of the way and let the votes be counted.

 

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