Slate plans to tell us on Nov. 8 which presidential candidate is ahead, long before the polls close. The website will relay projections by VoteCastr, a group of statisticians who use voter turnout in selected precincts to determine, say, whether Hillary Clinton or Donald J. Trump is leading in Ohio. As early as 6 a.m. on Election Day, these number-crunchers will project a winner in Colorado based on where absentee ballots are coming from.
It is a disconcerting innovation for many who respect the civic rituals of Election Day, from the small talk with the volunteers at polling stations to the moment when all the television networks break their silence to let us know what is in those exit polls. But there is probably no going back. With the right data, the voter turnout model is sound (these days, elections are more about motivating supporters than about changing minds), and there is no way to prevent VoteCastr volunteers from reporting on what they see at polling stations without shredding the First Amendment.
Some worry that people will skip voting if the presidential election seems to be over by noon, but there are also legislative races andballot questionsto be decided. It is also possible that the release of data throughout Election Day will encourage more people to vote. Certainly, it will be difficult for the civic-minded to get through the workday without being distracted by the cascade of projections from VoteCastr and, if they are successful, the inevitable imitators in future elections. This is yet another reason to make Election Day a national holiday.