For as long as anyone can remember, television networks and the Associated Press have reported votes on election night by saying, "With x percent of precincts reporting ..." But, this method of reporting election results is about to go the way of the VCR.
Starting Tuesday night, the results of statewide races will be reported by giving the percentage of "expected vote." The votes reported at the state level at any given time will be divided by the estimate of the total votes that will be cast in the state to come up with the percentage of expected votes.
"Percentage of precincts reporting" is no longer accurate because the increase in early and absentee voting can provide a skewed picture of how much of the vote has actually been counted. Some counties, for example, dump all their absentee votes and call it one precinct even though these votes may be half of the county's total. Others report partial precinct results and keep adding to the total. And because absentee votes are often counted more slowly than votes cast on Election Day, the percentage of the vote reported even on Wednesday morning may be far short of 100 percent. In 2004, only 54 percent of the final vote in Washington State was counted by mid-day Wednesday.
Most voters won't notice the change. For others, it may take a couple of elections to learn a new way to watch results on Election Night.