Who really counts your votes
By Victoria Collier
By Victoria Collier
Most Americans think the government counts the votes on election day, but the reality is something else. The count actually is done by a little-known private corporation called Voter News Service or VNS, located in New York City.
VNS is a major media conglomerate, owned by all the major networks, including Fox and CNN, the wire services, The New York Times and The Washington Post.
It was established in 1970 and has operated in almost total secrecy for more than 30 years. Their figures are accepted by election officials and the public alike on election night. The same figures are furnished to all networks and broadcast by them.
A few months ago, Victoria Collier, writing for The Ashville Global Report, called Voter News Service. She asked for some literature about the company. Collier was put on hold for five minutes, then found herself talking to the boss of VNS, Bill Headline. He asked Collier why she was calling.
Their conversation follows. The stuttering and stammering on the part of Headline allowed Collier plenty of time to transcribe the conversation. It has been edited for the sake of the reader. What remains gives an idea of Headlines extreme nervousness.
COLLIER: Yes, I was calling to ask if you had any information you could send to me. Any literature about your organization?
HEADLINE: Ah, well…um….(laughs)..I hesitate only because we dont really have anything in the way of literature. Uh…we have a fax sheet that were in the process of putting together, but its not ready for distribution. Um…
COLLIER: Oh. And you dont have a website?
HEADLINE: Well, no, we dont have a website.
COLLIER: But, people poll for you? I mean, you do poll?
HEADLINE: We…uh, we do exit polling.
COLLIER: Do you have volunteers who do that?
HEADLINE: No, we hire people around the country to do that.
COLLIER: So, if somebody wanted to work for you, how would they get information on how to do it?
HEADLINE: Well, they would, uh…they would drop us a note and say that they were interested in.. uh..in doing that. And Id be happy to uh…to receive such a note. And uh…we have a…uh..a group of people who recruit for exit polling on election night.
COLLIER: Well, it is strange that you dont have any written information that you could send out. I mean
HEADLINE: Why is it strange?
COLLIER: Well just because your organization has been around for such a long time, and it seems that in all this time there would be something written up. For the public?
HEADLINE: We, uh…we do a little, a little…as I say, we have a fax thats in, uh, thats in development. And uh, we have a…a brochure that gets sent out to people who have been hired to work for us.
COLLIER: Oh, you do have a brochure.
HEADLINE: A…well, brochure is kind of stretching it. Its a…its one page.
COLLIER: Its one page?
HEADLINE: But I, uh..I mean…(laughs) I am aware that this is not the first contact between uh…uh…your organization and ours. So, I mean…what is it that you want to know?
COLLIER: I would like to know exactly what it is that you do on election night. Thats
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HEADLINE: And why do you want to know this?
COLLIER: Because Im…Im a voter.
HEADLINE: Thats not why youre calling us.
COLLIER: Well, actually that is why. Thats it. Of course, Im sure youre aware of certain charges, of…secrecy, I guess, that have been brought against what was NES (News Election Service) and I think youre the same groupyoure VNS nowand Im really just checking it out for myself, to see if I can get information. Because I really wasnt aware of the importance of your group in vote counting on election night. I just want to get information on what it is you do. And the question that was asked to Lee Shapiro last week, that I think caused the problem, was: Is there a citizen organization that oversees VNS on election night to make sure that all of the votes are being tallied correctly? But there wasnt any answer to that.
HEADLINE: Well, there are a couple of answers to that. First of all, uh…our sources…well, we do three things. We do exit polling, and we uh…we make statistical models of each state, and we collect the vote from those models..from those model precincts. And we, uh…we collect the entire vote from across the country, primarily at the COUNTY level. So, you know…is there a citizen group? Is there a …a double check? Yes, the official results dont come from us, they come from…from, uh, states. States and…and counties.
HEADLINE: Uh…were…uh…were..in the long run, its those results that are the official results, and…uh…uh…if you look at the history of what…what we do, um…uh, (laughs) the official results are the final answer. And we have…well, I cant give you any statistical information because I dont think theres ever been any need to do it, but…weve..weve never been out of sync with the official results.
COLLIER: No, you havent, actually your vote projections in particular are remarkably in sync with the official results, which I think has been questioned in the past. That might be something a lot of people might be interested in, which is
HEADLINE: Ififif you see a conspiracy there, uh…
COLLIER: No, thats not what I said. I think
HEADLINE: Thats been the accusation, I think, or one of the accusations..
COLLIER: No, that isnt what I said. Actually, the question is simply, how exactly do you…whats the formula for the vote total projections? Youre projecting the vote total almost perfectly, before the polls even close. You use exit polling for this? Youre saying that you use certain precincts that you get your exit polling from, and they would be, I guess, key precincts?
HEADLINE: Well, key precincts isnt uh…isnt the, uh…isnt uh, the terminology that we use because its…thats confusing, although it has been used in the past. They are simply sample precincts. They are part of the statistical sample, of the country.
(Continued next week)