I love Election Day morning – it's a time when everything is possible. With only pre-election polls available, you can imagine each and every scenario. Did the Republican 72-hour get out their vote effort succeed and blunt Democratic gains in the House and Senate – or did the Democrats make the biggest gains since the Republican mid-term victories in 1994 or even 1946? What was the impact of President Bush's low approval rating (which averages 38% in recent polls)? And, of course, what about the war in Iraq, voters' most important national issue? Maybe it will be all local issues in the end.
Those infinite scenarios start disappearing as soon as we have data, of course, and those data are the early exit polls. This year, however, the period of infinite possibilities will be a bit longer. Members of the National Election Poll (including CBS) have agreed not to receive any data at all until 5 p.m. Extra care is being taken to prevent leaks, including the establishment of a "Quarantine Room" where two members of each member news organization will spend the day reviewing the information and insuring that there is good data quality. I won't be in that room (two other very talented people will), so I can spend the day (at least until 5 p.m.) imagining all alternatives.
After 5 p.m. the possibilities will narrow. I'll be sitting in the CBS News Decision Room with several brilliant statisticians, political scientists, and political mavens, looking at the results, and projecting the election results. We'll use the exit polls, but we will also use polls of absentee voters, actual votes in sample precincts and throughout the state to make projections. We won't make a projection until all the polls have closed in a state, and if we aren't sure, we won't do it even then. If a race is close, we'll wait for more information, and with all the concerns about slow vote counts that could be a long, long time!