The world of elections is constantly changing as technologies, rules and regulations evolve. While we tap into the experience of our political reporters and the relationships we’ve built with elections officials in all 50 states, we also adapt day in and day out to serve our customers.
The Associated Press has been verifying U.S. election returns and calling races for over a century.
We collect and verify returns in every county, parish, city and town across the country, covering races down to the legislative level in every state and declaring winners in over 5,000 election contests. Getting this information out to the world means working with media and commercial customers of all shapes and sizes.
Take a look at the milestones we’ve reached thanks to our experienced team of dedicated journalists delivering fast, accurate results to publishers around the country.
AP's election coverage then and now
The world of elections is constantly changing as technologies, rules and regulations evolve. While we tap into the experience of our political reporters and the relationships we've built with elections officials in all 50 states, we also adapt day in and day out to serve our customers.
Take a look at the progression of our elections coverage through the decades:
The 1848 election was the first in which all states voted on the same day and the first in which the telegraph was used to gather returns from all over the country. Dr. Alexander Jones, AP’s first general agent, brought that election and the telegraph together to collect results from the 30 states that voted then. The count went on for 72 hours, and telegraph tolls exceeded $1,000 — an enormous sum in those days.
Over the years, AP used every available means to secure reliable returns. On Dec. 11, 1860, The New York Times carried a dispatch from Fort Kearney, Nebraska, reporting that the California Pony Express left results to be telegraphed to AP. Included were full election returns from every county in California, showing Lincoln with 38,702 votes and Douglas with 8,060.
By this year, AP had become the standard for election night reporting. The Washington Post advised its readers of plans to display results on a huge screen in front of the newspaper’s building, including bulletins from AP, so the public could have returns “hot from the wires and without a moment’s delay.”
By the 1940s, counting votes on election night had shifted to the Washington bureau, which managed coverage of the campaigns as well as of the conventions.
The election in 1952 was notable for another innovation that sped up the vote count for AP by processing punched cards and providing tabular state-by-state results — an IBM accounting machine. At 1900 pounds, it was almost too big for the freight elevator at the Washington bureau, and required special wiring and extra fuses to run.
Gradually, in the 1960s and ’70s, AP brought computers into the mix, frequently hiring local data processors to tabulate results phoned in to state centers. The AP bureau in New Orleans was a pioneer in computerizing election night vote-counting. The first computerized go-round involved punch cards that, when fed into a processor, produced tabulated returns that then had to be keyed onto AP wires.
AP increased the scope and sophistication of its tabulation and election research efforts, adding systems to deal with delegate counts, algorithms to ensure quality control, and most importantly, an election research team that produces unparalleled data and analysis.
AP now counts the vote in more than 5,000 races during election years, providing raw feeds and interactive data visualizations for customers to ingest and easily display election returns and winners online or on the air.
Brian oversees the operations of AP's elections services team and evaluates market trends to develop new content strategies for presenting elections results. He has more than 25 years of experience in polling and elections.