WASHINGTON, Nov. 5 (UPI) -- The exit polling system used by media organizations to anticipate the outcome of elections failed Tuesday, the night of the midterm elections, leading news networks to announce that they would not call races, except on the basis of votes actually counted.
The Voter News Service -- a consortium of consisting of ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and the Associated Press -- said in a statement its new computer system was not properly analyzing exit poll data, and that the system's output could not be considered reliable. It said it hoped that some numbers would become available throughout the course of Election Night, but was telling new agencies to be prepared to operate without the predictions.
The TV networks responded by warning viewers that they would not be making projections based on exit polls.
"Due to problems with exit poll feed from Voter News Service, exit poll results will not be available Tuesday Night. CNN.com will bring you full exit poll results when and if they become available," said a message on CNN's Web site.
The decision to abandon the traditional manner of predicting election outcomes leaves the nation's media organizations dependent on official results from counted votes to declare winners and losers, and is likely to dramatically delay information about the election outcome.
Newspapers, which have early deadlines, pay particular attention to the poll.
"If Voter News Service dies tonight, we're going to party like it's 1956," cracked The Wall Street Journal's John Fund, referring to the last time media outlets were left to their own devices on election night.
Bob Woodward, assistant managing editor of the Washington Post, told CNN's Larry King that -- after media organizations called the 2000 election so poorly -- the absence of exit poll-based predictions was no great loss.
"It was back and forth in a very embarrassing way for everyone in our business," he said. In fact he suggested the breakdown might be a blessing in disguise.
"I thinks it's a breath of fresh air... these elections are too poll driven," he said.
But others were not so sanguine. Even before the announcement, the technical glitches in the program were sending campaign observers and race-watchers into a panic.
"There's nothing on the screens," said one veteran GOP fundraiser and lobbyist. "We have no idea what's happening out there, unless we talk to people on the ground and that is hardly scientific."
One VNS client said that the failure was not linked to the collecting of data at the polling places, but rather in the computer system used analyze the data. The system was put into place after the 2000 Presidential Election, where failures of the system led -- notoriously -- to Florida being incorrectly called twice that night.
The client said that VNS typically issues its first set of polling data in mid-afternoon, and that it became clear when little information came out that something was wrong.
"They changed the whole system because of the 2000 screw ups," said the client. "But it doesn't work. Our screens have been dead all day.