CHICAGO, Nov. 2 (UPI) -- An exit poll reported by NationalReviewOnline.com last Friday had President George W. Bush leading Sen. John F. Kerry by 15 points among "those who already voted" in 23 states across the country.
Over the weekend, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe took to the TV talk shows to proclaim his man, Kerry, was ahead by "15 points" in the Democrats' exit polls.
Such polls provided by the two major political parties may not be the most accurate gauges of the turnout and the vote count in Tuesday's presidential election, so TV networks and major news organizations tend to rely on their own methodologies.
A firm called Edison/Mitofsky, based in Somerville, N.J., is working with ABC News, CBS News, CNN, FoxNews and NBC News to produce a national election pool to provide exit poll analysis and provide projections. Major news organizations also have hired political scientists to help them interpret the data -- before they broadcast or publish it.
"We'll be analyzing what comes up on the screen," Helmut Norpath, a political science professor at Stony Brook University on Long Island, N.Y., told UPI's The Web.
Norpath, who is working with The New York Times, said the exit pollsters will distribute "confidential questionnaires" to voters as they leave polling places around the country, asking them for whom they voted, and the reasons behind their vote. "It's the usual suspects for exit polling," he added.
It is unusual the new firm, a partnership between Edison Research and Mitofsky International, is now doing the exit polling. Previously, a firm called Voter News Service provided those figures, but its performance in the 2000 election was not highly esteemed.
According to a statement by Edison/Mitofsky, the firm will conduct exit polls in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and also will collect the vote count in sample precincts, based on a scientifically selected sample of the state and the nation. From this information, the pollsters will provide "analytical tabulations" of the vote.
There will be 1,480 exit poll precincts throughout the United States, plus 2,995 "quick-count" precincts, where actual votes will be tabulated. The precincts have been picked based on the last election result -- and their total vote will be used to determine the probability of the winner.
Demographic questions also are part of the process, according to the Edison/Mitofsky statement. They will include information on age, race and gender.
"Participation is voluntary and anonymous," the firm said.
Nevertheless, exit polls are not perfect -- for example, weather conditions on Tuesday may affect turnout in key precincts around the country, one expert told The Web.
"There is a lot of unpleasant weather moving into the Midwest battleground states," David Montroy, a meteorologist and director of energy operations at Weathernews, located at weathertovote.com online, told The Web.
Montroy said his research shows there is a high likelihood of heavy rain in the southeastern part of Michigan, western Pennsylvania and certain counties in Ohio. "Heavy rain tends to dampen turnout," he said.
Montroy noted in Minnesota four years ago there was pleasant weather throughout most of the state, but in Marshall County there was inclement weather, which dampened voter turnout.
"That's a good illustration of how the weather can impact turnout," Montroy said. "Turnout was decreased in that particular county."
As of Monday afternoon, RealClearPolitics.com, an independent Web site, had Bush leading Kerry by 1.6 points in Ohio, by 1.1 points in Florida, and had Kerry ahead by 0.8 point in Pennsylvania, with Michigan a toss-up.
The latest Harris Interactive Poll -- conducted over the Internet from Oct. 29 through Nov. 1 -- showed Kerry leading, but the Harris Poll, done by telephone, showed Bush in the lead.
Electronic voting is making a big splash this election, and about half of the voters in the state of Florida were expected to vote on electronic machines, similar to the Automated Teller Machines used for financial transactions.
A number of organizations have dispatched volunteers to eye the polling places -- both electronic and paper-based -- including VerifiedVoting.org and the University of Pennsylvania. Graduate students at Penn's Fels Institute of Government are manning computer stations and a toll-free hotline, 866-MYVOTE1, and are watching for irregularities.
The "graduate students will examine the volume and location of the calls and analyze the content of individual calls for insight into local, regional or nationwide voting problems," the university said in a statement.
One factor that differs from the last presidential election and makes predicting a winner more difficult is the emotional dynamics of the race. Even after voting commenced Tuesday morning, operatives for both major parties still were sending out electronic missives to voters, including the following:
-- an e-mail from the Duke College Republicans, seeking support for the GOP nominee for the State Supreme Court in North Carolina and other candidates;
-- an e-mail from the DNC alleging the GOP "falsely accused" Democrats of claiming that retired Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf had endorsed Kerry for president, and
-- another e-mail from the DNC, this time from Communications Director Jano Cabrera, claiming the GOP was trying to "undermine" the election through "Orwellian" tactics, such as a a lawsuit in Florida.
The Web is a weekly series by UPI examining the global telecommunications phenomenon known as the World Wide Web. E-mail email@example.com.