How America counts the vote — and determines the winner — of an election is now ripe fodder for a multitude of baseless conspiracy theories that undermine the confidence of voters in the democratic process. The 2020 presidential election kicked distrust in the U.S. electoral system into overdrive.
There are some reasons counting the American vote is confusing. We have a decentralized process and different states count different ballots in different ways and at different times, including before, after and on Election Day.
For voters reading and digesting election night news, raw votes reported by traditional news sources can be misleading, depending on how much of the vote has been reported at a point in time, and show one candidate leading when another might ultimately end up winning.
For all these reasons, The Washington Post is turning to election modeling — a complex but powerful mathematical tool — to help us understand how the vote is trending in real time. These models use complete results in a handful of counties and precincts, delve into those areas’ demographics, and estimate what the vote could end up looking like in similar counties or precincts. As we’ll explain below, we’re not making official race call projections or declaring winners solely based on the model’s data.