Voter News Service in jeopardy

Jan 6, 2003  •  Post A Comment

The Voter News Service is in danger of dying as members of the VNS consortium-ABC News, CBS News, CNN, Fox News, NBC News and the Associated Press-ponder whether they can afford to stick with a mechanism that has blown up in their collective face twice in two years.

VNS was born more than a decade ago out of the feeling that news operations no longer could afford to rely solely on state-by-state exit polling and that it was more efficient to eliminate the duplication and share the cost of one Election Day polling unit.

Representatives of the VNS partners are scheduled to convene today to discuss its fate. It is possible they will be asked to vote on whether to dissolve the consortium. It also is possible they will be asked to consider alternative courses of action ranging from restructuring it, or breaking off some of the functions and forming other, smaller partnerships, perhaps amongst themselves, perhaps with universities or foundations who have a stake in the historical snapshot exit polls can provide.

Dissolution is a very real possibility, said sources familiar with the situation who don’t wish to be identified.

There is significant momentum for change among the partnership, which is dissatisfied with the operation run day-to-day by executive director Ted Savaglio. No one feels confident about taking another whack at fixing the VNS system. Nor is a fix likely for the computer system being built by the privately held Ohio-based Batelle Memorial Institute that led to critical errors in the calling of the voting in the 2000 presidential race in Florida.

Two years later, despite a $10 million to $12 million overhaul, the system was late in providing vote totals from some races and never did cough up the national exit polling data that is critical to projecting winners before all the votes are in.

Polling options

The AP, which already collects vote totals state by state, has suggested it could create a parallel vote tabulation against which its totals could be checked.

Exit polling, which is essential to being able to project results, presents a more complicated situation, not least because that is the portion of the service to which numerous nonpartner print news organizations, including The New York Times, subscribe. The exit polling was supposed to produce revenue for VNS.

Instead, subscribers received nothing for which to pay, and some of the VNS partners, who received last-minute warnings that the system might not work, had commissioned their own smaller-scale exit polls.#