The Voter News Service was an exit polling consortium formed in 1990 by six major U.S. news media organizations. Its mission was to provide results for United States presidential elections, so that individual organizations and networks would not have to do exit polling and vote tallying in parallel.
The VNS included major United States television networks and newspapers:
- Both parties, Republican and Democrat
- ABC News
- CBS News
- NBC News
- The Associated Press
ABC News scooped its partners all night in reporting outcomes of the 1994 US elections when it hired an outside firm to do exit polling and was able to make earlier calls with that data.
Role in the 2000 presidential election
A possibly unwritten secondary mission of the Voter News Service was to provide election results as quickly as possible on election night—a point which came to haunt the VNS in the 2000 presidential election.
Election Night in Florida
The VNS received intense criticism for its ‘flip-flop’ calling of the state of Florida in that election. During the course of the evening, it first called the closely contested state of Florida for Al Gore, then George W. Bush, and then as ‘too close to call’. Critics argued that the state should never have been called until the state’s fate was clear. The Voter News Service also received specific criticism for calling the state of Florida for Al Gore before the polls closed in the Florida panhandle, which was located in the Central Time Zone and heavily Republican. In addition, criticism also came because of the call for Bush which occurred before precincts in Broward, Palm Beach Volusia, and Miami-Dade Counties reported their results to the state which occurred after the networks called the state for Bush well after 2 AM eastern standard time.
Bush vs. Gore
The next day it was discovered that ‘bad data’ resulted in the confusion of the previous night. Due to the Bush margin of victory being less than 0.5% of the total number of votes cast, an automatic statewide machine recount was ordered. In Palm Beach County, a butterfly ballot was used to conduct the election in some precincts. On election day, voters intending to vote for Al Gore instead voted for Pat Buchanan, and the Reform Party ticket. Buchanan received 3,407 votes or 0.8% of the total compared to 0.29% of the total statewide. As a result, unwilling Buchanan voters in Palm Beach county reported votes for Gore in exit polling which resulted in flawed data. Palm Beach County’s butterfly ballots
2002 attempt and disbandment
In 2002, the VNS intended to make calls in the November 2002 U.S. Congressional and Senate elections. It attempted to use a computer system designed for VNS by Battelle Memorial Institute to do this. A system failure occurred in this computer on election night, making quick delivery of data impossible. In fact, collecting and delivering the data took ten months.
In January 2003, the Voter News Service was disbanded largely because of failures in 2000 and 2002. Murray Edelman, VNS editorial director, criticized the decision as making the VNS a scapegoat.
National Election Pool
In the 2004 presidential election, the news organizations that had comprised the membership of the Voter News Service set up a new organization called National Election Pool, utilizing consultants Edison/Mitofsky for exit polling and Associated Press for official returns. However, the NEP had controversies of its own for 2004 when it released exit polling data early that was significantly different than the final results.
- ^Doan, Amy (November 29, 2000). “Antitrust Group Targets Voter News Service”. Forbes.com. Retrieved August 16, 2012.
- ^Barnes, James (December 1996 – January 1997). “Election Night Heats Up – The Networks Race to Make the Calls” (PDF). The Public Perspective.
- ^Barringer, Felicity (2001). “CBS Plans Changes in Election Night Reporting”. The New York Times.
- ^Bauder, David (September 5, 2003). “VNS Data From ’02 Midterm Votes Released”. Associated Press – via HighBeam Research (subscription required). Archived from the original on March 25, 2016. Retrieved August 16, 2012.
- ^ Jump up to:ab Morin, Richard (January 14, 2003). “Networks To Dissolve Exit Poll Service”. Washington Post. Archived from the original on 4 August 2011.