A peek at network exit polling by Voter News Service
By Victoria Collier
By Victoria Collier
Last May, Victoria Collier, working as a writer for The Asheville Global Report, interviewed the head of Voter News Service, the network-owned consortium that counts the votes in the presidential election.
This is the second part of that interview. Collier had asked Bill Headline, CEO of Voter News Service, about exit polling. He said sample precincts are used.
COLLIER: Do you use the same precincts in each election?
COLLIER: No? So…
HEADLINE: Wewewe, we sample them. This is something that the statisticians understand better than I do.
COLLIER: Really? Whats your position?
HEADLINE: I run the place.
COLLIER: Youre the president?
HEADLINE: No, Im executive director.
COLLIER: Executive director. Okay, I dont want to quote you incorrectly. Spell your name?
HEADLINE: Bill Headline. H-E-A-D-L-I-N-E.
COLLIER: Okay. Is Robert Flaherty still the president?
COLLIER: Not anymore?
HEADLINE: He never was. He mightve been at NES (News Election Service). I dont know what those titles
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were. He is a former executive director.
COLLIER: Whos the president now?
HEADLINE: There isnt one.
COLLIER: Oh, so youre top of the line then?
HEADLINE: (laughs) I like to think so.
COLLIER: How long have you been working with VNS?
HEADLINE: Ive been at this shop a little over two years.
(Explains the name changed from NES to VNS in 1993)
COLLIER: So you only do exit polls, you dont do entrance polls?
HEADLINE: Well, entrance polls, uh…uh…theyve been used occasionally when its difficult for whatever reasons to exit poll. But the preference is to do exit polls.
COLLIER: Okay. So then in the upcoming election, would it be possible to…well, would it be possible for me, for example, to take part in the exit polling?
HEADLINE: (long pause) Um…if…if there was a…a…a sample precinct in uh…in your area, and it made sense to hire you to..to do that, its…its theoretically possible. I-I-I must tell you that, uh…uh…it would not be something that we would want to do, because what you try to do in exit polling, in any polling, is to have the process as pure as you can, and uh…the purity in, uh…in this case…has to do with someone who has uh…uh…only kind of a general interest in doing it. Youre…I would not want to hire you because youve…you or your organization have been antagonists for reasons that I dont understand, uh…and,uh…and,uh…
COLLIER: I dont have an organization. Actually Im not even on staff at The Global Report, I just
HEADLINE: Well, you represent yourself as being from The Global Report.
COLLIER: Im writing for The Global Report. Actually, Im afraid I wouldnt be able to speak to anybody if I didnt have some kind of organization, either a newspaper or something else behind me.
COLLIER: Thats all. And I think, well, isnt that the criteria for working for the exit polls?
HEADLINE: Well, uh…generally speaking, its nice to have some polling experience, but, uh…but thats not absolutely necessary. We recruit people who have an interest in doing the job, and will rehearse according to our directions and follow the directions that are part of the polling package. And certainly you…uh…you might well qualify.
COLLIER: Well, listen, I am not antagonistic. And I certainly hope I havent been in this telephone call. Im just interested in the voting procedure, and Im…you know, Im just a politically active person.
COLLIER: Im just interested in it. So I dont see how I wouldnt qualify. And I really would enjoy doing it. And its not that Im unaware of the problems that certain people have had with your organization, but Im willing to look at everything unbiasedly. I just want to see how it runs.
HEADLINE: Right, right…
COLLIER: So, how would I go about doing this?
HEADLINE: Drop me a line.
COLLIER: Well, I am. Im dropping you a line. This is the line.
HEADLINE: Okay. Okay.
COLLIER: So, whats the next step?
HEADLINE: Uh…uh, if…if youll drop me a line, Ill get it into the hands of the people who do the recruiting, and uh…and, well see where it goes from there. And Im, Im willing to pass that along without any…without any comments or restrictions.
COLLIER: Okay. Im glad Im speaking to you, because I really did want to speak to somebody, and I know that Ms. Shapiro isnt in today, and I did have a question. I mean, if youre concerned about the antagonism, then its a good opportunity to clear up some of the
HEADLINE: Well, she had had a conversation with somebody from The Global Report the other day that was less than satisfactory. I guess in every respect.
COLLIER: I know.
HEADLINE:So shes a little cautious about, about
COLLIER: I think what it was, was that she (the GR reporter) had asked if there was a citizen oversight group for VNS, and Ms. Shapiro said she didnt want to get into it. Then I think that there was an accusation that Ms. Shapiro was being evasive. And, you know, that wasnt necessary, Im sure that there is an answerand there is. The answer is; No, there isnt a citizen group. And that would have been sufficient.
(Continued next week)