The television networks were up to their old tricks again Tuesday night, calling the presidential race before voting booths closed on the West Coast.
This despite an informal, non-binding pledge that the networks would not declare a winner in a state until that state's polls had closed.As a result, there is a renewal of the familiar demands for Congress to pass a law closing the polls at the same time in the 48 contiguous states. This might involve some tinkering with daylight time in the West.
Competition among the networks is so intense that it's easy to understand why agreements to hold back on projecting election winners come apart.
At the same time, it's hard to believe that early calls keep many voters on the West Coast from going to the polls. After all, there are plenty of other important state and local races to be decided besides the presidency. As for the presidency, the polls have been calling its outcome not just hours but weeks in advance.
Even so, the election night projections on the networks are still an exercise in hypocrisy. They are based on exit polls conducted as voters leave the voting booth. The results of exit polls are often available shortly after lunch, but the networks don't announce them until prime time.
But the overriding principle is that voters should be allowed to make up their minds on election night without even the slightest chance of being influenced by how other citizens voted earlier in the day.
The greatest blame in all this, however, rests not with the networks but with the U.S. Senate. The House of Representatives has twice passed a uniform poll closing bill. But the Senate keeps stalling on the measure.
By all means, let's put a uniform poll-closing law on the books. If it doesn't work, it can always be rescinded. But almost anything seems bound to be an improvement over the present arrangement involving hypocrisy and broken promises.