The official end of the election is when all the votes are counted and certified by the State Board of Elections, but voters and campaigns rely on an army of statisticians and political scientists to mathematical projections to offer some clarity on the expected results.
"The last thing that should matter on Election Night is what campaign officials are saying about the election," Rick Klein, ABC News Political Director, said. "At that point it's about the numbers. It has to be about the data and you need to divorce entirely from any information that could be political spin."
The ABC News Decision Desk, or D-Desk for short, is charged with making those critical projections knowing full well the entire nation is watching.
"99.5% is the mathematical certainty that's the standard they use," Klein said. "We're not predicting stuff, we're not throwing darts. We're not making guestimates. We're making mathematical projections. That does mean you can do that without 100% of the vote."
The projections are based on the incoming results of the election as they're uploaded and posted by county and state officials, but they're also extrapolated from exit polls, party registrations and inferences from geographic and demographic data.
"It is a moving target and there's no magic number (of votes) that we need to see before we make a projection," Klein said. "Obviously we need to see some critical mass of vote, but it can be if the data points in one direction, there could be a statistical certainty about it. They're not just looking at the raw vote total. They're looking at where it's coming in, trends from other states and how that's matched up. You can learn a lot about how a nation votes and it's not necessarily precinct by precinct."
No projections are made until all polls close in a given state. There's also no deadline to make a projection--the statistics can continue to roll in after Election Night.
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"We are very conservative about these things. There is no race to be first. There is no pressure exerted on them or felt by them to be faster than anyone else. When another network makes a projection, they don't care. They're going to keep looking at the data the way they look at it."