Kathleen Frankovic On Making 'The Call'

During CBS News' coverage of the midterm elections, CBS Director of Surveys Kathleen Frankovic was responsible for deciding when the network would project winners. I asked Frankovic to talk about the experience.

"I think you can safely say that I know a lot more about Montana geography and came name more Montana counties now than I did before early morning Wednesday," she notes, a reference to the tight Montana Senate race ultimately won by Jon Tester. Frankovic was among the first to call the Virginia Senate race for Jim Webb, not long after the Associated Press called the race following a canvass of the state.

"Once I knew that the AP had been confident in their results, and also once we learned that George Allen was being encouraged to not even ask for a recount, I thought it was a pretty good call," she says, adding that the relative "stability" of the Virginia results also played into her decision.

This year, for the first time, the media consortium that conducts election-day exit polls set up a "Quarantine Room." Two people from each network and the AP were confined to a windowless room on Election Day in order to look over the incoming data. They were made to give up their laptops, cell phones and PDAs upon entering the room, and were not permitted to communicate with the outside world until 5:00 pm. The system was set up to prevent leaks of exit poll data, which some argue can influence election results.

Frankovic argues that the Quarantine Room had a "hugely positive effect."

"It made for a much calmer Election Day," she says. "And it also meant that the exit polls, as they came out at 5:00, were much better in terms of representing the final results." In past years, she says, "the information was being leaked well beyond the people who were used to using them. So there were a lot of expectations that people had about the data and about the election that turned out to simply not to be true." This year, she adds, she was able to work with "a much more valuable set of data" than she had in the past.

I asked Frankovic why she was able to call some races, such as those in Hawaii, despite the fact that, according to the Web site, no votes had come in and no precincts had reported results. "There had been an exit poll that we used to decide Hawaii," she said. She joked that "it was also based on that and the fact that, as Wonkette noted, the winning candidates were wearing leis."