WASHINGTON — At 7:31 p.m., the Associated Press declared Joe Biden the projected winner in Virginia, causing dozens on social media to question the reasoning behind the polling logic and how results can be determined so quickly.
At the time, only about 10% of the vote had been counted statewide, but it was enough for AP to call the race.
"How can Biden/Harris and Warner be declared winners in VA only an hour after the polls closed?" One viewer asked the Verify team. "I saw 54% for Trump and 47% for Biden under the headline that Biden wins VA. Something is wrong with the reporting if those numbers are correct."
So, how with differing numbers coming in can pollsters like the Associated Press call the state for Biden so quickly? Let's Verify.
What are polling places looking at when calling results?
When calling results, there's more than just current ballots that go into projections. Other factors include exit polls, demographics trends and previous partisan patterns.
"What you're really looking for is historical trends," Drew McCoy, president of Decision Desk HQ, said.
"Understanding how large your geography is in terms of potential votes, what its partisan leans are, and what it's done historically," he said. You also want to know when you can expect to get votes. "But what you're really looking for when you're calling an election, is you're really calling a loser more than a winner."
Larry Rosin, the co-founder and president of Edison Research, agreed.
They're using historical voter data combined with exit polls and surveys to make that determination.
"Let's say that the Democrat is ahead, and the Republican is down by a certain number of votes, but the overwhelming majority of outstanding voters are in Democratic parts of the state," Rosin explained. "At some point, you're gonna be able to call that race even though you don't have all the votes, because you know that person's lead is only just going to get bigger as the votes come in from the more Democratic part of the state.
"Each organization has their own statistical methodology for how to make predictions. Rosin told us Edison Research does not officially project a winner of an election until they determine that the odds that a candidate will fail to catch up are higher than 99.5%.
Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Elections Chris Piper explained how votes are counted, including the 2.7 million which he says were cast during the early voting period.
“I want to again preach patience," Piper said. "These numbers could change significantly through the night, as the cap numbers are reported…..we've given them a cutoff time of 11 o'clock, so we should see absentee numbers coming in after that time.”
*NOTE: While the Associated Press has projected Joe Biden will win re-election, the formal results show up as the votes are counted below.*
What was AP's official answer?
According to an official response from the Associated Press, the group declared Biden the winner after results from early returns as well as an AP survey of the electorate showing that the former VP had beaten Trump comfortably in completed counts of a representative selection of Virginia precincts.
"Those results matched data from AP VoteCast and an analysis of early voting statistics," the statement continued. "The survey found Biden with a substantial lead in the state. VoteCast, the AP’s wide-ranging survey of the American electorate, captures voters’ choices and why they made them."
Biden’s projected win in Virginia marks the fourth in a row for Democrats – with Hillary Clinton winning over Trump by 5.4% in 2016 -- but until Obama won the state in 2008, it had not gone blue since 1948. From 1952 through 2004, Virginia was reliably Republican, save for the landslide victory of Lyndon Johnson over Barry Goldwater in 1964.
And in 2019, Democrats took control of both chambers of the Legislature for the first time in decades.
Remember, Virginia continues to count absentee votes until noon on Friday, Nov. 6, as long as you postmarked it by Nov. 3. We won’t have a certified vote in the state until November 10.