Exit polls and Oregon

Consider this senario:

It’s 9:15 EST, election night 2000. Normally at this time on election night, the networks have already annointed the winner and are just killing time until the victory/concession speeches.

Not this year. While Gore had a significant lead in late October, a last minute Bush subliminal ad blitz tightened the race considerably. So now Bush has a twenty-some vote lead in the electoral college with the results from Eastern and Central time zones in. The network analysts run their computer programs (images of computer tape drives running) and come to the conclusion that Gore has to sweep the West coast to win.

And so it goes. The mountain states as expected go to Bush, giving him a bigger lead, but not enough to put him over the top.

Eventually the polls close on the West coast and the pundits go to the exit poll results and decree California for Gore with .001 % of the vote counted. Then Washington is also declared a Gore state with a similar microscopic fraction of the vote counted. But when they get to Oregon, panic sets in. Where are the Oregon exit polls? Who forgot to take the exit polls in Oregon?

The problem is that Oregon doesn’t have voting booths any more. We have vote-by-mail here in the Beaver State. Some people voted as much as 3 weeks before, although the ballots aren’t counted until after 8 p.m. on election day. So what are the networks going to do? Are the networks, king makers of Western Civilization, going to have to wait for the actual vote count in Oregon to determine the next leader of the Free World? Isn’t that unAmerican and even undemocratic?

The above scenario may or may not be likely, but it’s not out of the realm of possibilities. So my question is, how do they predict the winner of a vote-by-mail election? Is there any way that’s as good as exit polls other than waiting for the vote count?

After either the '88 election or the '92 election, Ted Koppel hosted a special where they told us the press and the candidates knew who was going to win the day or two before the election, based on polling done that weekend.

Kinda makes you think that election night coverage is as unscripted and unrehearsed as WWF Smackdown.

Alas, we must not forget that the President and Vice President are not elected by we mere mortals but by the almighty electoral college.

Quite true, and it’s important to remember that electors have no constitutional requirement to give their electoral votes based on the popular vote of their state. There have been a few instances of rogue electors over the years.

Yes, there have been a few rogue electors, but they’ve never modified an election. For the most part, electors acquiesce to the will of the people.

The poll the weekend before the election is generally good about predicting the winner, although in most recent elections, it’s been fairly obvious several weeks (sometimes months) before that. But I was thinking of an election that’s much closer than we’ve had in the past 30 years or so and may be a dead heat in the poll. Something like Nixon-Kennedy in 1960, where the Chicago machine waited until the downstate results were in so they could calculate how many votes were needed to give the state to Kennedy.

A vote-by-mail system might give a different result than a last weekend poll. After all, some of the people will have voted over 2 weeks before that time. If some late news about one of the candidates comes out, some of those people may wish they could change their vote and may respond with who they now wanted to vote for rather than who they actually voted for.

But the OP was about how the TV people pick the winner of each state on election night. They don’t use that last weekend poll, they use exit polls. The question is, what will they use in place of exit polls in a vote-by-mail state?

This question will become more important if a larger state adopts vote-by-mail. Is there any other state that’s thinking about doing so?

According to an article in the paper a couple weeks back, six or seven different computer programs have already predicted Gore the winner. None picked Bush. Supposedly, these programs have succesfully predicted all but the closest previous elections going back to the 40’s and 50’s (presumably using data through august of the election year, not the 1999 World Almanac). The article said the programs are more accurate than even election day polls.

And I think I speak for all of us when I say that no one really cares which way the people of Oregon vote anyway.

Makes you wonder why we bother to have elections at all.

Reminds me of that Asimov story about the “election” held by Multivac interviewing a single voter, which decides the results of all elections from President down to dog catcher[sup]1[/sup] all over the country.

[sup]1[/sup] Although there’s no place that actually elects dog catcher, unfortunately.

I have a question. If you vote by mail, how can they check your ID? How do they prevent fraud?

Thanks for pointing that out. You know, just the other day I was wondering, “Does BrothaTJ care about which way the people of Oregon vote?” The question had been nagging me incessantly since then.

They compare your signature with the one on file. One of the arguments against vote-by-mail was the increased possibility of fraud, but I’ve only heard of one case where it happened. This was when one of the opponents of vote-by-mail attempted to show the dangers of fraud by engaging in fraud himself. He was caught by the election authorities.

I don’t know about other states, but they never checked my ID when I voted in person in Oregon. I had to sign for the ballot, but otherwise they took my word that I was who I said I was. Perhaps they are just more trusting here than in big states. Or maybe it’s because no one really cares which way we vote here.

Oh and you know just the other day, I was wondering “How long is it going to take for another elitist 2000+ poster to rag on me for my post?” Just a shade under 10 hours, nicely done.

Oh, come on, Brotha. That was a fair riposte.

Frankly, as a recently former oregonian, I care how Oregon votes. Plan to go home just to vote. At least Oregonians vote, And I would be really pleased if we would be the tie breaking vote. Though I don’t really think it will be that close.

Can you give a cite? I’d love to read that article.

Ummm… (trying to parse grammar) … so you’re a recently former Oregonian … so you used to live in Oregon, then moved out, and just recently moved back to Oregon, thereby relinquishing your status as a “former Oregonian?”

Uhm…golly. Here in Montpelier, VT you just go up to the nice old lady and tell her your name. Checks you off on her clipboard and hands you the ballot.

IMO we don’t need the darn electoral college any longer. I think that the technology has caught up to the point where we can have the people vote directly for the folks they want instead of having their vote funneled through these folks. It’s outdated. (and if I’m missing what these folks are supposed to do, then please tell me.)


Well, I don’t either. That scenario in the OP was just a foolish fantasy of mine.

The last I heard though, Oregon was a tossup. Normally, it would be for Gore, with the liberal big cities outvoting the conservative rural areas. But Oregon is also one of Nader’s best states, which draws off some of Gore’s support.

K let me clarify the challenged statement. I live in the third largest media market in the nation. You know how often I hear Oregon mentioned here or on any national news? Not very. The post was an attempt at humorously pointing out that Oregon doesn’t get a whole lot of mention in the news and that this voting method is the most exciting thing the state has going for it.
So I apologize to the Oregonians, current, former, or recently former. But that joke would have passed fine if my post count were four digits.

It’s not the electors themselves that are important, it’s the fact that the electoral college system changes the election from a national plebesite to a state-by-state contest. This changes things in several ways

Because the lowest number of electoral votes for a state is 3, the electoral college system gives low population states more say than they would get in a straight election. Consider the 13 western states. They have 109 electoral votes between them, 54 of which (just under half) are from California. If the electoral votes were allocated just on the number of members of the House of Representatives, the west would have 83 votes, 52 (well over half) for California.

The fact that most states make the election of the electors a winner-take-all affair makes it possible for the candidate with less than a plurality of votes to become president. I believe this has happened a couple times, although I can’t remember off-hand who they were (Kennedy was one, I think).

It also changes somewhat the way campaigns are run. If a state is heavily in favor of one candidate, neither candidate will visit it much, no matter how big its population. Most of their attention will be focussed on the so-called battleground states, large states where the election is still in doubt. In a straight election, you would expect the candidates to campaign in all heavily populated areas fairly evenly. Of course, states like North Dakota and Maine won’t get much attention in either kind of election.