NEWS organizations to keep Voter News Service intact

Friday, June 1st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ The members of Voter News Service, an elections consortium whose data was used by several news organizations in making wrong calls in last year's presidential election, have decided to keep the organization together and revamp its operations.

The six member news organizations _ ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, Fox and The Associated Press _ had given themselves a June 1 deadline to decide whether to remain in the cooperative or to opt out, members of the organization said. They said Thursday that all have decided to stay in.

VNS's board has been reviewing the cooperative's procedures, seeking to restore trust in VNS data and avoid errors like those last fall.

Likely changes include updating VNS's computer systems, improving statistical models and accounting better for absentee ballots and early-in-the-day voting.

VNS, created in 1993, counts votes in races for president, Congress and governors, and carries out exit polls. The news organizations do their own interpretation of VNS' data and analysis.

All VNS members initially projected last election night, Nov. 7, that Vice President Al Gore had won Florida, a key to winning the presidency. The news organizations later said Florida was too close to call, but early the next day five VNS members declared Bush the winner in Florida and nationwide. The AP was the only one of the six not to declare Bush the winner at the time. Election night gave way to five weeks of recounts and legal skirmishes.

``The AP and other members of VNS are committed to providing the most accurate and reliable election night data possible,'' AP Executive Editor Jonathan P. Wolman said. ``To reach that goal, we are in the process of actively evaluating VNS operations and planning for necessary changes in systems and procedures.''

Other members of VNS also confirmed they would remain in the consortium.

``We have confidence that the necessary steps are being taken to ensure the accuracy and reliability of VNS election night information,'' NBC News spokeswoman Barbara Levin said.