Who Declares the Winner?

November 13, 2020
NEWS FLASH On November 3, people in New York City watch a news report about the presidential election.
JEENAH MOON—BLOOMBERG/GETTY IMAGES

On Election Day, presidential candidates often express confidence that they’ll win the race. They sometimes do this while votes are still being counted. But it’s not up to a candidate to declare a winner. Nor is it up to his or her campaign or political party.

The winner and loser of a presidential race is not official until every state’s votes are counted and certified by state election officials. That can take days or weeks after an election is held.

Yet in many cases, newsrooms announce a winner in a state based on partial counts. Say candidate A is far ahead in a given state. A newsroom can decide that candidate B cannot catch up, even if he or she gets all the remaining uncounted votes. Candidate A can be declared the winner. This is an unofficial result, but it’s usually accurate.

Many news outlets, including TIME for Kids, rely on the Associated Press for election results. That’s because the AP does careful research and analysis before calling an election. It has reporters in every state who consult with election officials and check election websites. In 2016, the AP projection was accurate in every state where it declared a winner.

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