How to Run an Exit Poll Part 2

Here are more instructions with links to help people who want to run an exit poll.  This is all pre-election day stuff to do but doesn’t include developing your sample survey form.  I’m going to devote a separate post to that.  I’ll link to it when it’s up.  I’m also planning an excel template that people can download, input their exit poll results and official polling location results to get an output of the probability of the difference between the occurring by chance alone.

Training:  I highly recommend running a short training session with your volunteers.  I think 30 minutes is sufficient, an hour if it’s a large group.   Go over the  instructions,  let them see the supplies (ballot box, survey forms, etc.), and have each participant go through some practice interactions with their fellow students.  It also gives everyone a chance to get acquainted prior to election day.

Schedule:  You’ll need to prepare a schedule in advance and co-ordinate with the volunteers to make sure they can and will be there for their appointed hours.   Here is the example-volunteer-schedule I used in my August primary exit poll.  Notice that some volunteers are tasked with bringing in fresh supplies.  Everyone got a copy of this ahead of time, so they knew when they were working and with whom.  Always have at least two volunteers manning the exit poll.  This is a basic safety precaution.  If one volunteer has a heart attack, the other will notice and call 911.

Tally Sheet:  You need a form for volunteers to record the number of refusals. Here is what I used in my August primary exit poll.  The time categories related to the hours different volunteers worked.  I taped a copy of this to the table and had the volunteers record their refusals.  Some volunteers kept separate tallies for themselves when it was busy and then later recorded them onto that page, which is also fine.

Supplies:  You’ll need to arrange for all supplies to be on site, including refreshments.  I had different volunteers bring refreshments through out the day. Suggested Supply List

Costs:   While many of the supplies are things you may already own or can be borrowed at no cost, printing hundreds of survey copies to be filled out will cost money.  I am estimating costs for the sites I am coordinating at $50 – $100 per site, including refreshments.

Another option is an electronic app.   I’m not using it for my sites because the advantage of voter marked hand-counted paper surveys is the same as for paper ballots.  On the other hand, I have donations sufficient to fund the needed supplies for exit polls I am coordinating, so my out-of-pocket costs are minimal.  If costs are a constraint, this is an acceptable alternative for the 2016 election.

 Permission Slip:  It’s not strictly required, but in addition to notifying the appropriate person regarding setting up your exit poll at their location, having documentation of permission by that person isn’t a bad idea.  I phoned and introduced myself, sent the person an email, and picked up the permission-slip in person weeks ahead of time.  I kept it on site at the exit poll.  No one confronted me about my right to be there, so it wasn’t needed.  But if someone does, it’s nice to have it.

How to run an Election Exit Poll

I’m working to set up multiple exit polls here in Kansas in November.  I thought that people in other areas might be interested in setting one up themselves. You need just one dedicated individual along with a few additional volunteers working a few hours apiece can pull this off.  You may also need to expend from $50 to $150 on supplies like making copies of your surveys and refreshments to offer voters.

The dedicated individual is the exit poll site manager.  The additional volunteers only need to spend a few hours on election day soliciting voters to complete surveys.  Two people should be manning the exit poll booth at all times, just in case any emergency situations arise.  This post outlines what an exit poll site manager needs to do to run a successful exit poll.

The approach I recommend is called cluster sampling.  Each site provides an independent check on the accuracy of the official counts at that polling station. If we combine information from multiple sites, the data can provide excellent precision for determining whether the discrepancies found are reasonable and evenly distributed or if they show evidence of systemic bias, which would indicate problems with our votes having been counted accurately.

This approach means that you need to try to contact all voters at that location to request they complete an exit poll survey.  The reason for this is that the purpose of this exit poll is to validate the official results at that location.   It is not to make predictions prior to the close of polls.  It is not to analyze for demographic information afterwards.  It is to validate the official results.  By concentrating our efforts at relatively few polling stations, we can attain a higher level of confidence that the results of our survey are representative of the polling location.

The first thing to ask is method they voted.  In my location, there are three options – by machine, by a scanner paper ballot, or by provisional ballot.  At the end of the day, I get the counts of votes cast for each candidate by machine and my scanned paper ballot.  Provisional votes are not counted until a determination is made of whether that person was allowed to cast the ballot. The exit poll results for provisional ballots can be compared to the accepted ballots.  If significant deviations occur, that is a measure of the impact of voter suppression attempts, such as voter ID laws.

Before finalizing your design of the exit poll survey, you will need to select a location.  Contact your local elections office and get a list of all the polling locations.  Let them know you are planning a citizens exit poll and ask if they have any regulations or laws that would affect that.  In Sedgwick County, the only significant rule was that we could only approach people after they voted, not before.   There is also a law regarding distance for any electioneering, but as long as we only approach exiting voters, this would not be a concern.

Site Manager Duties:

The site manager is the point person for everything to do with an exit poll at polling place.  They will be there in the morning to set everything up and they will wait at the polling location to get the official results when the machines have finished printing out the records.  They will not need to be there the entire day, but they do need to be available if any problems arise.

Prior to Election Day:

  1. Select polling location:  Site managers need to consider the polling places available near their home, perhaps even scout the locations to make a determination about which they would prefer to exit poll.  You will need to contact the owner/manager of that location and inform them of what you will be doing.  Find out if they have any concerns and address them or refer them back to me.  Obtain written permission to be on their premises to conduct this survey when appropriate.
  2.  Finalize Survey:  While there will be three races applicable to all of Sedgwick County, because site managers decide what locations they will monitor, they have the option to add additional questions specific to their polling place such as state legislators or judges.
  3. Prepare Supplies:  The site manager will decide on and arrange for all supplies to be there.  Tables, Chairs, Refreshments, survey forms, ballot box, etc. Suggested Supply List
  4. Schedule volunteers:  We’ll need to meet together to accomplish this. I’ll keep a list of volunteers and we can discuss where volunteers are needed and when.  I’m also going to see if I can get some student help for the times before and after school, which is often the busy times at polling locations as well.

Election Day – It’s a long day, but this could be split up between two people, say a morning manager and an evening manager.   

  1. Set up:  The site manager arrives half an hour before the polling station opens.  They set up the exit poll booth, making sure everything is ready for the first voter of the day.
  2. Maintain:  The site manager is the person on call for any issues that arise.  But they should be close by, available to take care of whatever issue might arise.  Run out of survey forms?  The site manager will bring more.  Volunteer calls in that they can’t make it after all? The site manager either fills in or finds someone there who can.
  3. Close down:  The site manager will be responsible for securing the completed survey forms and counting them.  The site manager will ensure the booth area is cleaned up and all borrowed equipment is returned.
  4. Official Results:  The site manager will need to remain on the premises to collect the official results for that polling location.  Meet with election officials for your location sometime in the morning, letting them know you will doing this.  They should allow you to examine the results tape for yourself.  However, if they object, you can ask them to fill out your survey form for the machine results and the scanned paper ballots results from the printouts.  In addition, ask them to give you the total number of provisional ballots turned in for that location.



After Election Day:

  1. Count your results
  2. Publicly post both the official results and your exit poll results for your polling location or email me your results and I’ll post them on my site