EXPLAINER: Why might live election results fluctuate?

Live vote counts sometimes go up or down on election night

Ali Swenson
Wednesday 26 October 2022 14:00 BST
Election 2022 Vote Count Fluctuations
Election 2022 Vote Count Fluctuations (Copyright 2020 Associated Press)

Why might live election results fluctuate?

The short answer: People make typos sometimes.

As local election offices across the U.S. count millions of votes on election night, they share the results with polling firms, which transmit them to viewers watching live on their TV, laptop or phone screens.

Along the way, humans reporting these results occasionally transpose two digits, add an extra zero or swap candidate tallies, causing false vote counts to temporarily appear in news graphics and social media updates.

Here's why that's not a big deal:


In recent years, hawk-eyed viewers at home have noticed some of these brief election-night slip-ups and used them to falsely claim they'd caught TV networks or election offices switching or deleting votes to rig the results.

However, these small mistakes are not a sign of anything nefarious — and fortunately, quality control measures in election offices and polling firms ensure they happen rarely and get fixed quickly.

In elections offices, clerks test voting equipment before voting begins to ensure tabulators are functioning properly. On Election Day, poll workers report any issues with results, such as differences between the number of voters who cast a ballot and the number of votes recorded. After voting is complete, officials use canvass and certification processes to continue hunting for discrepancies and verify tallies.

Companies that track down these local election results and share them with media outlets on election night also have safeguards in place to catch errors. These measures include questioning unusual data, using computer software to identify discrepancies and employing quality control analysts to check the numbers.


The Associated Press, one of several companies that does this type of real-time vote reporting, sends thousands of local stringers to county election offices on election night to call in raw vote count totals. The AP employees who take the stringers’ calls ask questions to make sure the information is accurate, including asking whether there are problems in the stringer’s county, and challenging details if the results seem suspect.

Since many states and counties display their election night results on websites, some AP data entry staffers monitor those sites and enter results into the database, too, entries that are also checked and rechecked.

Next, automated checks identify data inconsistencies and refer them to a supervisor. And the AP’s team of full-time election research and quality control analysts further monitor and examine the results for anomalies.


Edison Research, the firm whose data fuels live election night reports from ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC, similarly goes through a quality control process as votes are coming in and afterward, said Executive Vice President Rob Farbman.

In addition, in key states and counties, the company employs two people to look at each vote count before it is reported.

A few errors are inevitable, Farbman said, but “they always get fixed.”


Associated Press writer Meg Kinnard contributed to this report from New York.


Check out https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections to learn more about the issues and factors at play in the 2022 midterm elections. And follow the AP’s coverage of the midterms at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections.

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