Why Were The Numbers Wrong?

CBS News Director of Surveys Kathleen Frankovic answered your questions about this historic presidential race in a live chat Thursday, Nov. 9. Following is a transcript of the session.

Question: Can you tell us a little about your role during the election?
Kathleen Frankovic: I am the director of surveys. For the last three elections I have been in the control room on election night, and among other jobs I am in charge of the people who are involved in decision making about calling races, and I also help coordinate the stories that are done involving analysis of the election by correspondents.

Q: If the votes are so varied in Florida, isn't it possible for the votes across the country to be wrong as well?

KF: The best way I can answer that is by saying that the electoral process involves multiple ways of counting ballots. It is administered mostly by volunteers at the polling places, and whenever you have massive amounts of data counted by many people the possibility for error increases. But in most elections errors tend to cancel each other out and any errors that don't won't affect the outcome.

Imagine counting or adding up on paper 100 numbers. The odds are if you do it twice, you'll get two different numbers.

Q: I guess I have a comment. I think the Florida votes are getting out of hand. I don't think they should be allow to re-vote if it comes to that. I feel that will go against our Constitution. I feel they are using this as a way to go back and change their vote. I saw the ballot and understand what they were asked to do. What can be done to prevent a repetition of these mistakes?

KF: First, I think the odds of a court permitting a re-vote in Florida are almost non-existent. In one case recently, where the court admitted massive voter fraud in Miami, the court simply threw out the questionable ballots, and said there could not be a re-vote.

The ballot issue is a different one. Florida lets counties decide how people can cast votes, and how they're going to get tallied. Ideally, Palm Beach County should have run a test of the readability of the ballots, but they do have the authority to decide the ballot. There are, in the United States, many different ways of tallying votes. Paper ballots, voting machines, touch screens, computer cards....

Maybe there should be a serious study to see which way, which form of ballot is easiest to use, easiest to understand, and can be counted more reliably.

Q: Could someone tell me who they think will win, please?

KF: Well, I think at this point in Florida, that we know we're going to have to wait a few days. One county says they are going to hand count the ballots on Saturday. The Secretary of State says that she expects the results from this recount process on Tuesday. Then we'll have to see what happens next ...Including whatever overeas ballots arrive.

Q: What responsibility will the media take in the chaos that has been created? Can you tell me if you are going to change the way you report elections in the future?

KF: I think it fair to say that we will be looking very closely at our procedures to try to ensure that we don't make these kind of mistakes again, and a thorough study is clearly going to take a while.

Q: Wouldn't it be better if no results were released until the last poll closes in Alaska?

KF: Well, there are 51 separate state elections that happen on Election Day, and each state runs their own election and sets its own rules for polls closing and for polls opening. The first two states to close, Indiana and Kentucky, close six hours before Alaska does, and the state releases tabulated votes when the polls close.

As new organizations, we have a responsibility to report that news, and one way of avoiding this (media misreporting problems) is to have one poll closing time throughout the country. (This) was proposed by a former CBS News president.

Q: Could you maybe tell how you call all the results before all the polls are in?

KF: Throughout the day voters are interviewed as the leave the polling place, and they answer questions about who they voted for, why they voted for them and how they feel about a number of issues. We collect that information — we also collect the actual vote total from a sample of precincts throughout the state.

And we also collect the reported, tabulated votes, from every state. With this sampling information and with our knowledge of past voting behavior, we can say who will carry a state before all of the votes are counted.

CBS Host: Could you say a little about how this equation worked or did not work in Florida?

KF:Well, obviously, it didn't work. It was a combination of factors, I talked before about how errors can come into both counting and operation. Well, errors can creep into any large data collection effort.

While we had good quality-control procedures, there were several places in our data collection where there were mistakes, or problems in Florida, and with all of them together, we made the mistake.

Q:The Founding Fathers couldn't have foreseen the level and type of technology now available. Through crisis is born solution. Do you feel that Americans will now support a review of the process, i.e., the (Electoral) College vs. popular vote scenario?

Interesting to note that those media's focus on a close race encouraged involvement in the process. Do you think that there will be a review of the Founding Fathers 215 year-old process and some type of synergy to move the process into the new world?

KF: No, in every public opinion poll that I'm aware of, over many years, when the public is asked about the Electoral College, they have always suported moving to elect the president by popular vote.

There have been several efforts to abolish the Electoral College. Those efforts have never gone very far. I'm sure there will be another attempt very soon.

©2000, CBS Worldwide Inc., All Rights Reserved