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Calling election winners

How we report the election results you count on

Tabulating results and calling races through a nationwide network

We collect and verify U.S. election returns in every county, parish, city and town across the country, covering races down to the legislative level in every state and declaring winners in over 5,000 election contests.

It's an essential process that requires dedicated people and documented expertise, and we have both. 

“Calling races, from the national level to state legislatures, is a vital function the AP provides to its members and customers.

Being able to accurately and quickly call those statewide and state-level races is critical to their ability to provide strong election night coverage.”

- Sally Buzbee, Senior Vice President and Executive Editor

What sets us apart?

Map of United States AP bureaus

Having an experienced elections team that knows what to look for is essential. Instead of relying on crowd-sourcing or vulnerable technology, our 50-state network of local reporters have first-hand knowledge of their territories and trusted relationships with county clerks and other local officials.

On election night, race callers in each state are armed with a wealth of additional detailed information from our election research team, including demographics, the number of absentee ballots, and political issues that may affect the outcome of races they must call.

Race callers are also assisted by experts in our Washington bureau who examine exit poll numbers and votes as they are counted. A "decision desk" in Washington, headed by the Washington bureau chief, has the final signoff on all top-of-the-ticket calls.

The process

1. Collect the votes

Our stringers collect votes at a local level from county clerks throughout the night.

2. Phone in the results

Stringer phones in results to a vote entry clerk in Spokane, Washington, or our Vote Entry Center.

3. Key in the data

A dedicated vote entry clerk keys in results.

4. Double check, and check again

Votes are filtered through an intense series of checks and verifications. We were 99.9 percent accurate in calling U.S. races in 2012.

5. Deliver the results – fast

Results are posted on member websites and used in broadcast, newspaper stories, etc. Results are updated throughout the evening and the days following election day.

Sample state results map: 2016 presidential primary

Want to learn more about our vote counting process?

FAQs

1848 to 2018: AP's role in the elections process

The Associated Press has been collecting and verifying election results since 1848, making us the definitive source. Get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at how we've covered elections through the decades.

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