‘The world depends on us for the answer:’ How Sally Buzbee’s AP team will call the election

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Valerie Jarrett has a final pitch on Election Day, Jacinda Ardern assembles a diverse Parliament, and Sally Buzbee is behind the team of journalists that will call today’s election. Deep breaths this Tuesday! – Making the call. How’s everyone feeling? Excited? Anxious? Already breaking into that […]

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Valerie Jarrett has a final pitch on Election Day, Jacinda Ardern assembles a diverse Parliament, and Sally Buzbee is behind the team of journalists that will call today’s election. Deep breaths this Tuesday!

– Making the call. How’s everyone feeling? Excited? Anxious? Already breaking into that stash of comfort food? Americans, along with so many observers the world over, are eagerly awaiting the results of Election Day 2020.

So much of the uncertainty around the vote is due to the unprecedented nature of this year’s contest. It’s taking place during a once-in-a-generation pandemic, with what’s expected to be record-high turnout due in part to more early voting than ever before. This year’s campaigns have spent more money than ever, and, of course, there’s President Donald Trump, whose extraordinary rhetoric has questioned steadfast democratic principles, like counting all legitimate votes.

Perhaps some good ol’ precedent will calm the nerves. The Associated Press today will deliver nearly two centuries of it.

The U.S. is unique in that it doesn’t have a national electoral commission. By default, news organizations have assumed that role, the AP chief among them. It has called every U.S. election since 1848. Starting today, under the leadership of executive editor Sally Buzbee, it will do so again by following its trademark process: it does not issue projections or name ‘apparent’ or ‘likely’ winners; it only declares the outcome of a race when a trailing candidate no longer has a mathematical path to victory.

To make those determinations in the presidential contest as well as 35 Senate, 11 gubernatorial, 435 congressional, and 6,000-plus down-ballot races, the AP relies on an army of more than 4,000 freelance local reporters who gather vote counts from county clerks across the 50 states, the New York Times reports. Those reporters relay the tallies to 800 vote entry clerks, who fact-check any anomalies before inputting the data into the AP system.

Each state has a ‘race caller,’ who works alongside an analyst from the AP’s politics team in D.C. to declare winners; another editor signs off on every call. Announcing the winner of the presidential race requires an additional set of eyes, that of AP’s Washington bureau chief Julie Pace.

“I am responsible for ensuring we get this right,” Buzbee told Poynter. “The world depends on us for the answer: Who won?”

Buzbee, with the AP since 1988, is overseeing her first presidential election as executive editor. The AP named her to the job days after the 2016 contest.

This year, voters rightfully have more questions about how election winners will be determined. The AP is taking the new step of publishing stories explaining how its experts called a race or why they’re holding back in a tight contest. Buzbee has said top AP execs will publicly explain the process in interviews if necessary.

Buzbee, for her part, has already been on a press blitz, making the case that the AP’s system is unswayed by outside forces, even in a year like this one.

“We have called the winner of every presidency without fear or favor or partisanship or any opinion of any person in our organization,” she told PBS. “We have called it on the facts and math year after year after year. This is not a magic show. This has been based on facts and math and state law. And all we’re doing is reporting what’s happening.”

Claire Zillman
[email protected]
@clairezillman

Today’s Broadsheet was curated by Emma Hinchliffe

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