The three major television networks say they will not jump the gun and call a winner before the polls are closed in any state during November's presidential election.
Representatives of ABC, CBS and NBC told the Senate Rules Committee on Thursday that they would be willing to make the commitment permanent if there were a uniform closing time of the polls across the country.All three said they favored legislation to close the polls in the continental United States at 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time during presidential elections.
Thomas B. Ross, senior vice president of NBC News, said the network's policy is to "project" election results in any state only after all polls for that office have closed in that state.
"Under our policy, were a national uniform poll closing system in place, NBC News would not use election day voter polls to project or characterize the outcome of a national election until polls in all states were closed," he said.
But Sen. Brock Adams, D-Wash., and Rep. Al Swift, D-Wash., noted that the networks had made the commitment previously and NBC had violated the pact during the New York Democratic presidential primary by using exit polls.
Adams chaired the hearing and is a strong supporter of the legislation. Swift successfully pushed through a similar bill in the House in November.
Swift showed a video tape of the three networks during the New York primary April 19 in which NBC indicated Mike Dukakis would be a big winner over Jesse Jackson even though many of the state's polling places were still open.
"Mr. Chairman, I can assure you that it was an inadvertent aberration and it will not occur again," said Ross.
The other two network officials who made the commitment were George Watson, vice president and Washington bureau chief of Capital CityABC News and Warren Mitofsky, vice president, election and survey unit, CBS News.
Under the legislation, polls would close at 9 p.m. in the Eastern time zone, 8 p.m. in the Central time zone and 7 p.m. in the Mountain time zone.
In the Pacific time zone, daylight savings time would be extended until the Sunday after Election Day. This provision, affecting California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and the Idaho panhandle, would permit a 7 p.m. poll closing simultaneous with 9 p.m. EST.
Alaska and Hawaii would not be affected by the measure, which was approved on a vote of 208-109 on Nov. 10.