Archive: Dick Meyer

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Veteran CBS News White House Correspondent Bill Plante is the host of's Smoke-Filled-Room. Each week, Bill invites a top political expert into the Smoke-Filled-Room to answer your questions. Today's guest is Washington Editorial Director Dick Meyer in a special post-election edition of S.F.R.

Plante: "Why would CBS project winners in 48 states and yet retract its projection in Florida, not once, but twice, based upon the same model? Where is the logic? If you have confidence in the model - which seemed right in 48 cases - why would you reject it in the case of Florida? I am truly baffled," writes Jeanne Johnson.

Meyer: You're not the only one. The bottom line is that models, like people, aren't perfect. The vote in Florida turned out to be too close to count, much less predict or project.

The major networks and wire services hire a consortium called VNS to conduct exit polling and count the results - a massive, complicated, expensive task. The people who do this are brilliant and experienced. Their work, year in and year out, is right 99 percent of the time.

This year in Florida several problems seem to have come together. A tight race, data entry problems, reports of voter "anomalies" or potential fraud in certain areas – all things that showed up late in the evening.

Obviously, we wish we had refrained from making the race prematurely. We regret it, and a long process of self-examination at all news organizations has commenced.

Plante: "What is the good in voting if the popular vote does not count?" asks K9CoJoe.

Meyer: The answer to that question, of course, is personal.

In a Senate race, for example, the voting is direct - there aren't electoral votes. If you vote for the loser, does your vote count? Only you can answer that.

If it turns out the candidate who won the popular vote lost the electoral vote, there will be prolonged, serious debate about abolishing the Electoral College. It may happen - who knows. But the central virtue of the electoral vote system in modern American democracy is that it forces candidates to pay attention to small states. If North Dakota didn’t have electoral votes, if it was just a straight popular vote system, no national candidate would visit. They would spend all their time in big cities, where the votes would be.

Plante: "At one point last night, I saw the statistics from Michigan. They had less than 50% of the precincts reporting, and in the raw vote, Bush was ahead of Gore by about 1 percentage point. However, the program was saying that Gore was going to win the State. How do they determine this?" Brady Simmons is curious.

Meyer: The analysis takes into account all the exit polling done statewide throughout the day. More importantly, the system weighs where the votes are coming from, whether, perhaps, thearly returns are coming from precincts that traditionally vote Republican. These variables are plugged into the formula, along with the raw vote count.

Plante: Steve Alburtus asks "What would happen in other countries if the candidate who received the most votes was not allowed to take office? Do you think that the U.S. and the U.N. would stand idly by and allow that to happen?"

Meyer: Interesting question. Many parliamentary democracies have systems called proportional representation where parties are represented in legislatures in direct proportion to the popular vote they got. So, for example, Nader's Greens would have a few seats in Congress.

The electoral system may not be perfect, but the rules are clear, well known, and strictly enforced. In other words, it's fair.

Plante: John Orr would like to know, "Do you feel that the initial projection of Gore winning Florida had any impact on the Western States, since the polls were still open at that time? Was this an effort by the media to manipulate some of the results?"

Meyer: No, turn-out was high in the West.

Plante: Our final questioner, Elizabeth H. asks, "If Gore had conceded, as he was poised to do, would he have been able to retract it after finding out the problems in Florida, or would it have been too late?"

Meyer: The act of conceding a race, I believe, is a matter of political etiquette, not law. If Gore had made the speech conceding a loss, it would not have been too late for the process to continue in Florida.

But I bet Gore is still mighty glad they stopped him on the way to the podium.

E-mail questions to The Smoke-Filled Room.

About Bill Plante
Bill Plante is a three-time Emmy Award winner who joined the CBS News Washington Bureau in 1976. He has been covering national elections since 1968. In 1984, he was part of a CBS News teamthat captured an Emmy for coverage of Ronald Reagan's 1984 re-election campaign. Plante is one of the most knowledgeable and respected political correspondents in Washington. (He'll do just about anything, including bungee jumping, to get a good story.)