Behind the curtain on election night coverage

In the final lead-up to Tuesday's provincial election, political podcast The Ledge reveals the mystery behind election decision desks.

What goes into declaring a winner on election night is one of the big questions explored in the Ledge

Technicians from across Canada have gathered in CBC Edmonton to assemble a television control room for election night television coverage. (CBC News (Kim Trynacity))

Never before in Alberta election history have so many residents — 2.7 million according to Elections Alberta — been eligible to vote.

And never have so many rushed to the advanced polls.

In the final lead-up to Tuesday's provincial election, political podcast The Ledge reveals the mystery behind election decision desks.

How do decision desks make crucial pronouncements? How do they determine what to pass on to the audience right after the polls close, and what to hold back?

And when, oh when, to declare the winner?

"One of the first things we're going to look for, is the popular vote totals," says Bob Weiers, senior producer of Elections and Live Events with CBC News.

Weiers is a veteran election-night producer who travels Canada for CBC News to assemble election-coverage operations and editorial content.

The Ledge reveals the mystery behind election decision desks. How does CBC make crucial pronouncements? And when-oh-when to declare the winner? 24:16

Noting that NDP Leader Rachel Notley formed government in 2015 with less than 40 per cent of the popular vote, Weiers says early returns could be quite telling on election night.

"We may only get 20,000 votes in the system. It's still very early. Less than 10 per cent of polls or 15 per cent of polls will have reported," Weiers said.

A sample that size — roughly 20 times bigger than an average public opinion poll — is a solid place from which to start making projections, Weiers said.

"If we see that one party is vastly ahead with that 20,000-vote total, we can be pretty confident to know which direction we're going in."

Election night is all about the vote count, but CBC election coverage producer Falice Chin says audiences have gravitated to a range of offerings, from dissecting detailed investigations to quick snapshots and profiles of party platforms and people.

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Hoping for a breakthrough

While Notley and UCP Leader Jason Kenney compete for valuable real estate in Calgary, the Alberta Party is hoping to make a breakthrough in Edmonton.

Edmonton-Riverview Alberta Party candidate Katherine O'Neill talks to The Ledge's Michelle Bellefontaine about the challenges of being heard above the roar of a polarized political environment.

CBC Alberta will have comprehensive coverage of the Alberta election results, beginning at 7:30 p.m. on CBC Television, 8 p.m. on CBC Radio One, and non-stop on social media and web at cbc.ca/edmonton and cbc.ca/calgary.

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About the Author

Kim Trynacity

Kim Trynacity is an award-winning journalist and CBC Alberta's provincial affairs reporter. You can reach Kim by email at kim.trynacity@cbc.ca or on Twitter @ledgewatcher