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On Google, which appears to use data from AP, all of the West Coast states -- California, Oregon, Washington -- immediately went from grey (no results) to dark-blue (called-for the blue party), right on the hour when the polls were closed on election night -- without ever going light-blue -- when only a minuscule vote counts have been available. In other words, it was called before any number of votes even came in at all, as soon as it was legally allowable to call it.

OTOH, we're currently at 50% reporting for Alaska, with about a 30% vote lead, yet it's still not been called dark-red, and remains light-red.

Can anyone explain why Alaska has not been called? Especially in a situation where Arizona has already been called so early by AP/Google as dark-blue, yet as of Thursday evening, only a very small lead remains (2.0% currently), with many votes (10% currently) still uncounted?

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    Who is "calling" these elections? If it's some news organization, surely there are reasons outside of careful objective evaluation of the facts to provide a rational probability of the outcome. Near as I can tell, every news organization in the western hemisphere is massively... Well, they would delete this if I used the right word. – puppetsock Nov 6 '20 at 1:57
  • While I think an answer to this question is both possible and useful, and I think it is worded nicely, it is borderline asking for the internal motivations of people. We have no idea why the AP specifically has done this without insider information or something like that. – user29681 Nov 6 '20 at 2:59
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    It is irrelevant in which direction the Associated Press calls any election, or for that matter in which direction any other media organization calls any election. Press organization projections have no legal standing. The only thing a press organization has to lose is its credibility in making an erroneous call. Everyone needs to take a very deep breath and let the legally cast votes be counted. And then let lawyers (what do you call 1000 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?) quibble regarding what "legally cast votes" means. But do take a deep breath. – David Hammen Nov 6 '20 at 4:30
  • @Chipster the AP publishes explanations of their reasoning. It's not internal or unknowable. – phoog Nov 7 '20 at 6:28
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The Independent has an article answering this very question. It writes:

The state counted its in-person votes on Election Day, which has put Mr Trump up 62.9 per cent to the 33 per cent for Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

Additionally, early voting was counted up to 29 October, which means 192,918 ballots have been counted thus far, or 50 per cent of the total vote.

But Alaska has absentee ballots outstanding for the rest of its votes, and the state does not allow for those to be counted until 10 November. This rule put forward by the state makes it the last state in the US that will be able to count its absentee ballots.

Even though it is anticipated that Mr Trump will gain the three Electoral Votes, it remains unlikely that the state will officially be called until it starts counting the rest of the outstanding ballots.

Division of Elections director Gail Fenumiai told local outlet KTOO the delay is so officials can “make sure that we have all of the in-person history that’s done” for the in-person votes on Election Day so no one can have a vote counted twice.

Alaska’s results are more delayed this presidential election compared to others due to Covid-19, but the state has consistently used a delayed counting system outside the 2016 and 2018 election.
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-election-2020/alaska-election-result-electoral-votes-b1627088.html

The Alaska Division of Elections has more information on that counting system (emphasis mine):

Ballot Counting Schedule

Polling Place Ballots

Ballots voted at the polling place on Election Day are counted, tallied and transmitted to the statewide database Election Night after the polls close.

Early Vote Ballots

Early vote ballots voted in regional elections offices through the Thursday prior to Election Day will be counted Election Night. Early vote ballots voted the Friday before Election Day through Election Day will be counted seven days after Election Day.

Absentee Ballots (By-Mail, By Electronic Transmission, Absentee In-Person, >Special Needs and Federal Write-In Absentee Ballots)

Regional elections offices begin counting absentee ballots seven days after Election Day. All absentee ballots must be counted no later than 10 days after the date of the primary election and 15 days after the general election and all other state conducted elections.

Questioned Ballots

Regional elections offices begin counting questioned ballots seven days after Election Day. All questioned ballots must be counted no later than 10 days after the date of the primary election and 15 days after the general election and all other state conducted elections.

As emphasized, some early votes will only be counted 7 days after the election.

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    Wait, so, you're saying we can call California at 1% of votes -- I'm pretty sure that was the vote count when it switched from grey to dark-blue -- but with Alaska, it's not yet clear? Does the state make it illegal to call it? – cnst Nov 6 '20 at 1:35
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    @cnst I don't think it's illegal (then it would probably be mentioned by those news outlets). As for making the call in one case but not in another, I think that means other data (pre-count) is more convincing for those states where the call is made as soon as the polls close. For example, I think the Australian ABC network called California before the polls closed there. – JJJ Nov 6 '20 at 1:42
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    From history, could have called California before the election... – jeffronicus Nov 6 '20 at 2:09
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    @cnst, it's important to note that 1) there are roughly 128,000 absentee ballots in Alaska, while Biden only trails Trump by about 50,000 votes, and 2) absentee ballots in this election have tended to favor Biden. There's expected to be a substantial shift in Biden's favor once those ballots are counted, and the news outlets are waiting for indications of whether or not it'll be enough of a shift for Biden to win. – Mark Nov 6 '20 at 2:11
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    (Technically, no state went “blue” or “red” in the modern sense before 2000; networks used to swap the colors around every four years.) – jeffronicus Nov 6 '20 at 2:17
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Google lists Associated Press predictions. Associated Press has explained their rationale:

WHY AP CALLED CALIFORNIA FOR BIDEN: The AP declared Democrat Joe Biden the winner of California as soon as polls closed in the state, even though election officials there had yet to release any results from Tuesday’s presidential contest. The news agency did so after results from AP VoteCast and an analysis of early voting statistics confirmed expectations that the state’s longstanding political trend in favor of Democratic presidential candidates will hold.

WHY AP HASN’T CALLED ALASKA The Associated Press has not declared a winner in Alaska in the race between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden because the contest is too early to call. Though Trump had a nearly 30 percentage point lead Thursday with about 50 percent of the vote counted, the state has not yet released its absentee ballot results and says it won’t do so until Nov. 10. That leaves too much of the vote untallied to declare a winner.

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    So, they let the 1992 California tradition stand, but ignore the 1968 Alaska tradition? Alaska has last voted Democrat in 1964, so, we must wait until Nov 10 to call it, but California has last voted Republican in 1988, so, we can declare it when 0% of the vote is counted? – cnst Nov 6 '20 at 3:44
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    @cnst: Those numbers are provided for context, but they hardly tell the whole story. Much more relevant is the margin in recent elections. Obama hit 40% of the Alaska vote in 2012, whereas California has been overwhelmingly blue for a long time. – Kevin Nov 6 '20 at 3:48
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    @Kevin and didn't Bush hit 44% in 2004 in Cali? How's that less indicative of a possible flip than Obama's 40% in 2012 in Alaska? – cnst Nov 6 '20 at 3:58
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    @cnst: shrug Maybe they had better VoteCast data in CA than in AK. Maybe they think 2004 is too long ago to matter. Maybe they think CA is more clearly trending left than AK is trending right. Maybe they care more about a quick CA projection (55 EVs) than a quick AK projection (3 EVs), and so made a greater effort to collect a lot of data on the former than the latter. – Kevin Nov 6 '20 at 4:02
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    @cnst, it's simpler than that. Forget "tradition": no recent survey showed Biden with less than a 25-point lead in California, while ones for Alaska showed Trump with a lead as low as three points (far less than the usual five-point margin of error). – Mark Nov 6 '20 at 4:22
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I certainly felt some unevenness in how Florida and Alaska were(n't) called. Especially as I'd noticed Alaska's history of voting Republican in recent elections.
But in investigating I was surprised to find that Alaska was considered a bit more uncertain in the pre-election projections... less likely on fivethirtyeight.com to go Republican than recent swing states like Missouri and Indiana:

enter image description here

The individual state pages showed that:

  • California polls were 24-31 pp in advantage to Biden resulting in an estimate of a >99% chance of Biden winning there
  • Washington polls were 20-27 pp in advantage to Biden resulting in an estimate of a >99% chance of Biden winning there
  • Oregon polls were 17-23 pp in advantage to Biden, resulting in an estimate of a 98% chance of Biden winning there

Whereas:

  • Alaska polls were only 5-12 pp in advantage to Trump resulting in an estimefate of an 85% chance of Trump winning there

So while polls certainly aren't always a perfectly reliable metric, they might offer some sense to why the other West Coast states would be called earlier... whereas the media might need to get a more significant amount of data to become thoroughly convinced and make a call. The other answers seem to have good explanations of why that data is slow, but this helps explain why AK wasn't called before results came in, while WA\OR\CA were.

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Media projections are essentially statistical models that are fed different kind of data (exit and pre-election polls, votes already counted, vote distribution by county, ballots outstanding, etc.) and produce an outcome with a certain probability. Once a model predicts a certain outcome with a high enough confidence interval, the organization that runs the model calls the outcome.

Is it legal?

Of course it is. Everyone (yourself included) can speculate about the outcome of the elections, before the election date, on the election date and after the election date. You're welcome to use whatever data you have at your disposal or your gut feeling if no data is available (to you).

Why are these projections different?

Because different organizations use different models, different sets of data and declare their projected outcome at different confidence levels. This is why, for example, Fox News called Arizona for Biden on the election day (and was the first media outlet to do so) while CNN has yet to make their projection: their model is simply not confident enough in the outcome.

Can these projections be false?

Yes, they can. Just as your predictions may turn out to be false, so are statistical models. However, there are several outlets (Associated Press, NBC, Fox, CNN, ABC and CBS) with a history of being extremely reliable in their predictions. If you don't trust them, well, that's your choice. However, to avoid being disappointed, please remember that they are probably going to be right anyway.

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