Media outlets projecting election outcome is nothing new, FMU professor says

Political science expert explains why race winners projected before results made official

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - Many people across the United States want to know why several media outlets projected Democratic candidate Joe Biden as the 2020 presidential winner when thousands of mail-in ballots are still being counted.

This comes after several news outlets across the country declared Biden the winner Saturday morning after he garnered the needed 270 electoral votes to win the presidency.

Richard Almeida is an associate professor of political science at Francis Marion University. He’s been in the political science field for 20 years.

He says throughout his political science career, media outlets projecting the presidential election has been the norm, and that includes the 2016 general election. Based on the voting data and electoral numbers, President Donald Trump was determined to be the winner, defeating the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

"In 2016 [on Election night] for example, I stayed up until 1-2 in the morning, "Almedia said. “When I woke up the next morning, the major media outlets had determined President Trump was going to win the presidential election.”

Trump held his victory speech announcement event later that night. Projected President-elect Biden held his victory speech Saturday evening, also on the same day media outlets announced him as the election winner.

Almeida said media agencies don’t have an official role with declaring the presidential election, rather an informative role, and it’s their responsibility to inform the public about what’s happening in their communities, and that includes elections.

He says the news outlet projections are based on voting data submitted by states, which determines which candidate is leading in the state.

Almedia further clarified news sources are going by the same process of projecting an election as they did in 2016 when Trump was determined to be the presidential winner. During the 2020 presidential election, the voting numbers project Biden as the winner.

He also explained that on Saturday morning, media outlets were waiting to see whether Trump or former Biden would gain enough votes in undecided battleground states, like Pennsylvania.

The Associated Press then announced they projected Biden as the winner after receiving the reported voting numbers from Pennsylvania.

“Big media outlets figured that enough or most of the American votes had been cast, and they felt confident that when all was said, Joe Biden would have the most votes in the state of Pennsyvalnia,” Almedia said. “Which would give him all 20 of Pennsylvania’s electoral votes, which would give him enough to be president.”

Almeida says in both elections, media projections were made before the election results were officially certified.

The professor says the next step during this election process is for the states to certify their final elections results. The deadline dates vary from state to state, however the election must be certified days before the Electoral College from all 50 states cast their votes on Dec. 14.

“That will be the official electoral vote for president,” Almeida said. “On January 6th, the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate will get the Electoral College vote and they will vote to accept it."

Almeida says at this point, for most the process of certifying the election is simply a formality, and more than likely it won’t change the projected voting numbers we’re seeing from each state.

"In almost every state, the winner is already known, Almeida said. "In most of the states, there is absolutely nothing that will change the event.”

"November 4-December 14, 2020: Counting Popular Votes and Filing Certificates of Ascertainment Following election day, the states are to count and certify popular vote results according to their respective statutory and procedural requirements. When the states have completed their vote counts and ascertained the official results, the U.S. Code (3 U.S.C. §6) requires the state governors to prepare, “as soon as practicable,” documents known as Certificates of Ascertainment of the vote. The certificates must list the names of the electors chosen by the voters and the number of votes received in the popular election results, also the names of all losing candidates for elector, and the number of votes they received. Certificates of Ascertainment, which are often signed by state governors, must carry the seal of the state. One copy is forwarded to the Archivist of the United States (the Archivist), while six duplicates of the Certificate of Ascertainment must be provided to the electors by December 14, the date on which they meet.

December 14, 2020: Electors Vote in Their States Monday after the second Wednesday in December of presidential election years is set (3 U.S.C. §7) as the date on which the electors meet and vote. In 2020, the meeting is on December 14. Electoral college delegations meet separately in their respective states and the District of Columbia at places designated by their state legislature. The electors vote by paper ballot, casting one ballot for President and one for Vice President. The electors count the results and then sign six certificates, each of which contains two lists, one of which includes the electoral votes for the President, the other,electoral votes for the Vice President, each of which includes the names of persons receiving votes and the number of votes cast for them.These are known as Certificates of the Vote, which the electors are required to sign. They then pair the six Certificates of Ascertainment provided by the state governors with the Certificates of the Vote, and sign, seal,and certify them(3 U.S.C. §§8-10). The six certificates are then distributed by registered mail as follows: (1) one certificate to the President of the U.S. Senate (the Vice President); (2)two certificates to the secretary of state(or equivalent officer)of the state in which the electors met; (3) two certificates to the Archivist; and (4) one certificate to the judge of the U.S. district court of the district in which the electors met(3 U.S.C. §11)

January 6, 2021: Joint Session of Congress to Count Electoral Votes and Declare Election Results MeetsOn January 6, or another date set by law, the Senate and House of Representatives assemble at 1:00 p.m .in a joint session at the Capitol, in the House chamber, to count the electoral votes and declare the results(3 U.S.C. §15). The Vice President presides as President of the Senate. The Vice President opens the certificates and presents them to four tellers, two from each chamber. The tellers read and make a list of the returns. When the votes have been ascertained and counted, the tellers transmit them to the Vice President. If one of the tickets has received a majority of 270 or more electoral votes, the Vice President announces the results, which “shall be deemed a sufficient declaration of the persons, if any, elected President and Vice President.”

January 20, 2021: Presidential Inauguration On this date, the President and Vice President are to be inaugurated. The Twentieth Amendment set the date for inaugurations as January 20, beginning in 1937. Since 1981, the ceremony has, with one exception, been held on the West Front of the Capitol. The Vice President takes the oath first, followed at noon by the President.

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