by Chey Scott
Spokane is playing a bigger role in the 2012 election than you might think.
Starting in less than two hours when the polls in major swing states (Virginia closes at 4 pm PST), election results will be sent off to one of the two national election data centers here in Spokane operated by the Associated Press.
The smaller of the two, in downtown Spokane, is on the fifth floor of the Lincoln Building, at 818 W. Riverside Ave. Another one in Cheney at Eastern Washington University, the Western Election Center, has been tallying votes for the AP since the 2000 election and is the largest such center in the nation, taking calls from local AP stringers in about 20 states.
State and national election return data sent to the two centers here — as well as to AP’s headquarters in NYC and a data center Cranbury, N.J., is updated in real time for use by AP’s member newsrooms around the nation. There are about 1,400 daily U.S. newspapers and thousands of TV and radio broadcast members that use the AP.
Out at EWU’s election center, more than 200 students will be working the phones tonight until all the polls close. Election data is verified for discrepancies as it’s entered into AP’s system, through comparisons with precincts’ previous voting history and other population demographics and voting patterns.
National media outlets, local news services and the AP newsroom will all use this data in election results coverage later today, along with information gathered in exit polls, polls going into election night and from reporters in the field. Local AP bureau chiefs also use the numbers to call races for each state — including the presidential race in key swing states — and local races down to the state legislature.
The AP says the EWU center plays a crucial role in election coverage because of the amount of data it handles, and because it provides the obvious advantage of the time zone difference between the East Coast and Midwest.
So later tonight when you get home and turn on the non-stop election results coverage, the numbers on your screen very well could have been passed through the system by some college kid out at Eastern. Pretty cool, huh?
UPDATE: These are the 20 states that will have election results called in to the EWU data center.
Virginia, Missouri, Kansas, New Mexico, Arizona, Idaho, Washington, California, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Washington D.C., Illinois, Iowa, Oregon, West Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, Michigan and Nevada.
States in bold are key swing states in the presidential race.