Voter News Service
scraps exit polling

By Jon Dougherty

Its new computerized systems fraught with bugs and problems, the consortium Voter New Service has decided to scrap its exit polling work, saying it could not guarantee its reliability.

VNS, which provides media organizations with state and national polling data, said the decision would not affect the organization’s effort to count the actual vote. Officials also said they hoped to have limited exit polling information, to assist members in projecting individual races.

Still, the decision was a major setback for VNS, a consortium comprising ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News Channel and The Associated Press. The service had completely rebuilt its system in response to problems encountered during the 2000 election, when television networks twice used its erroneous projections to call a winner in the controversial Florida presidential race two years ago.

In the days and weeks leading up to today, VNS has been unable to clear its new systems of bugs and glitches. The part of the system most affected is that which is used to cull information from voters about how they felt about certain issues, as well as how various groups cast ballots.

VNS said exit-polling information was being collected, but was not being properly analyzed by its new system.

Members generally expect the first batch of exit polling information around 2 p.m. EDT, but that hour came and went with little useful information, officials said.

Following Election 2000, the House Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on Telecommunications, Trade and Consumer Protection sent letters to major television networks and the Associated Press asking a series of questions about why they broadcast an early Gore victory in Florida.

Rep. William J. “Billy” Tauzin, R-La., head of the committee, questioned whether an early call by VNS discouraged some voters from casting ballots because they had been informed that the state had already fallen to the vice president.

In his letter, Tauzin said that early call “may have sent a signal out to Americans that this election was being decided in a way that was not accurate. When they’re being told by the networks that it’s already over, that’s akin to disenfranchising them.”

Besides discouraging some people from voting, critics have pointed out that the networks and major newswire services erred because they also failed to realize that Florida’s “panhandle” is in a different time zone. Most of the state is on Eastern Daylight Time; the panhandle is on Central Standard Time, or one hour later.

VNS was at the center of the controversy, Tauzin said.

In 1985, major networks and newswires signed an agreement to end the practice of using voter exit polls to call races early until all polling stations in a state are closed.