New Group to Replace Voter News Service

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By: David Bauder, AP Television Writer

(AP) The six news organizations that disbanded Voter News Service (VNS) last month signed a contract Tuesday with two veteran polling experts to conduct exit surveys of voters during the 2004 presidential election.

ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News Channel, and The Associated Press announced they had reached an agreement with Warren Mitofsky of Mitofsky International and Joseph Lenski of Edison Media Research. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The new consortium, called the National Elections Pool, has less than a year to build an exit polling system in time for the 2004 presidential primaries.

Exit poll information is used to help project winners in individual elections and provide information on why people voted the way they did.

Separately, the consortium members will rely on the AP for counting the vote on election nights, said Linda Mason, vice president of public affairs for CBS. VNS had its own vote-counting operation.

The media organizations disbanded VNS following two major failures in two years. VNS provided flawed information that led television networks to prematurely call the 2000 presidential election for George W. Bush and was unable to provide exit poll data during last November’s off-year election.

Mason said the news organizations decided to join together to start the National Elections Pool instead of developing their own systems because of the expense involved. The same financial concerns had led the news organizations to form VNS a decade ago.

Mitofsky and Lenski have spent many years in the business. Mitofsky pioneered a sample precinct polling system while working with CBS and ran a predecessor of VNS. Lenski worked for him before starting his own firm. Mitofsky built a limited exit polling operation for CNN during the 2002 election.

“We’re looking forward to working with Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International,” said David Tomlin, assistant to the president of AP. “All of us have our work cut out for us, because the start of the primary season is less than a year away. But we’re confident that they have the capabilities and experience to help us produce fast, insightful coverage of next year’s elections.”

While there might have been other options for building a new exit polling system, the former members of VNS “felt that this was a bird in the hand,” Mason said.

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