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ABC: All or nothing

Under pressure from key Republican lawmakers, ABC News last Wednesday said it would wait until all the polls in a state are closed before projecting election winners

The news division also said it would make clear to viewers that its projections were "statistically based estimates of the probable results of elections ... not reports of the actual, final results of elections."

The network said that it supports an outside review of the Voter News Service, which supplies the data upon which the projections are based, and that it will try to insulate those interpreting the VNS data from "the pressures of competition" on election night.

Finally, ABC said it continues to support a national uniform poll-closing time, so that projections in some states where polls have closed do not affect voting in states where polls are still open.

ABC's new guidelines came as all the networks were scrambling to respond to congressional criticism about their election-calling performance on Nov. 7-8. Early that evening, all the TV news operations projected Gore the winner in Florida and then retracted the call. Later, they projected Bush had won the state and the presidency, only to back off after the actual vote count showed Gore and Bush in a dead heat.

Leading the critics, Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) also charged that the networks may have "disenfranchised" voters in Florida's panhandle counties where polls were still open when the networks made their early call for Gore. The panhandle counties are in a different time zone from the Eastern part of the state.

Tauzin held a press conference two weeks ago suggesting that the the networks'election-night performance betrayed anti-Republican bias.

All the networks responded to Tauzin last week. CNN specifically denied any bias. ABC and CBS wrote detailed accounts of how they project elections.

Both said they start with exit-poll data submitted by Voter News Service, which was then analyzed by in-house experts. They also looked at early voting returns in the counties. They said Gore was comfortably ahead when they incorrectly called Florida for him at 8:02 p.m. ET and 7:50 p.m. ET respectively.

But in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, "another series of confusions took place," wrote CBS News President Andrew Heyward to Tauzin, "including what ... appears to be a very significant computer error made by the Volusia County Elections Department. ... We were as good as the information we were getting from sources we trusted. In this case, that information was not good, and neither were we."