Votecastr promises real-time voting data, before the polls close.
What if you could watch tomorrow’s U.S. election the same way the campaigns do — with up-to-the-minute data from polling places around the country?
That’s the premise behind Votecastr, a company that promises to deliver real-time voting news throughout the day on Tuesday, starting in the morning.
Votecastr’s data will appear, for free, on Slate.com, as well as on a streaming broadcast from Vice News.
My prediction: The brand-new startup is going to dominate much of tomorrow’s news cycle, particularly on Twitter and Facebook.
That’s because while almost no one has heard of Votecastr today, for much of Tuesday it will likely be the only source pushing out consistent updates on election news.
Most mainstream news organizations, following traditions established decades ago, don’t plan on releasing any kind of data until polls start closing in east coast states Tuesday evening.
“This is the day with the biggest disconnect between supply and demand in terms of actual news, on the biggest news day of the year,” said Sasha Issenberg, a journalist who literally wrote the book on modern campaign data, and is now Votecastr’s editorial director. “People readily assume that if there’s a big event that’s dominating the news today, [they] should be able to get information about it.”
Votecastr plans to fill that gap with turnout data — not exit polls — it collects on its own, from key polling places across the country, and will meld it with pre-election polling it has done, and then project a current vote total for specific races and geographies. (This isn’t exit polling, which Votecastr argues is less helpful; you can read a full description of the methodology here.)
That’s the same kind of data — and logic — that presidential campaigns collect and use themselves throughout the day. But voters usually don’t see any of that until the race has already been decided.
Votecastr and Slate will present those numbers, and continually update them throughout the day.
Issenberg says his company, which employs political data experts who worked for Barack Obama and George W. Bush, won’t use them to make projections about who will win. Instead, Issenberg says, they’ll be the equivalent of a football stadium scoreboard, which tells you who’s winning.
The danger, obviously, is that even if Votecastr’s data is correct, it may give people — especially those who don’t take time to process what they’re looking at — an inaccurate sense of how the race is actually progressing.
And there’s always the worry that early data could inflate or deflate voter turnout — the reason that news organizations usually give for not providing results during the day.
But things are different in 2016. For starters, early voting totals from millions of Americans have already been widely disseminated. My Twitter feed is full of stories about who’s already voted in key states like Florida and Nevada.
“People are already learning how to consume this kind of pre-result information, and they’ll learn fast,” said Julia Turner, Slate’s editor in chief, via email. “People will adapt to the idea that having some idea of how a race seems to be going midstream is not the same as knowing the result. Only the results are the results.”
Turner also says Slate will go out of its way to make sure the data it does publish comes with caveats and warnings about the fact that they’re snapshots, not definitive totals. And it will try to make that as obvious as possible, so that even screenshots of Slate’s pages travel with context.
The other argument in favor of getting Votecastr’s data — untested, and arguably incomplete — out there: It’s going to be better than everything else.
If you’ve spent a minute on Twitter or Facebook in the last week, you know there’s already a ton of misinformation out there — some of it distributed there deliberately.
Look at this brazen, amazing garbage. Facebook has become the world’s leading distributor of lies.https://t.co/oueWUiydJO
— Matt Pearce (@mattdpearce) November 6, 2016
That noise will only get louder tomorrow, which makes Votecastr’s attempt to create a signal a fascinating one.