NEW YORK – The top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee has asked The Associated Press and five broadcast networks to turn over raw exit poll data (search) collected on Election Day so that any discrepancies between the data and the certified election results can be investigated.
Rep. John Conyers (search) Jr. of Michigan said in a letter released Tuesday in Washington that the polling firms that conducted the polls on behalf of the news organizations, Mitofsky International (search) and Edison Media Research (search), had declined to share the information with the committee.
"Without the raw data, the committee will be severely handicapped in its efforts to show the need for serious election reform in the United States," Conyers said in the letter.
The AP and the five television outlets — ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and Fox — formed a consortium called the National Election Pool (search) to conduct exit polls for this year's election after disbanding a previous exit poll group called the Voter News Service (search), which had problems in both the 2000 and 2002 elections.
Edie Emery, a spokeswoman for the National Election Pool and a CNN employee, said the poll data were still being analyzed and that the group's board would decide how to release a full report on the data early next year. "To release any information now would be incomplete," she said.
Several Web logs carried accounts on the afternoon of Nov. 2 of what they said were leaked information from the exit polls showing that Kerry, a Massachusetts senator, was leading Bush in several battleground states, including Ohio, and poised for victory.
But Bush, a Republican, beat Kerry by about 119,000 votes in Ohio, winning that state's 20 electoral votes and putting him over the top in the race. Bush won re-election with 286 electoral votes to Kerry's 252.
Conyers' letter said the exit poll information could help determine whether there is evidence "of voting irregularities that occurred as a result of poor election practices and intentional voter disenfranchisement."
The exit polling was conducted for the AP and for ABC, a unit of The Walt Disney Co.; CBS, a unit of Viacom Inc.; NBC, a unit of General Electric Co.; CNN, a unit of Time Warner Inc.; and FOX News, owned by News Corp.
"Like Congressman Conyers, we believe the American people deserve answers," said Jack Stokes, a spokesman for the AP. "We want exit polling information to be made public as soon as it is available, as we intended. At this time, the data is still being evaluated for a final report to the National Election Pool."
Officials from ABC and NBC referred calls for comment to the National Election Pool, where CNN's Emery responded for the group. A CBS spokeswoman declined to comment, and officials at FOX News could not be reached.
Earlier this month Kerry asked county election officials in Ohio to allow his witnesses to inspect the 92,000 ballots cast in the state in which no vote for president was recorded.
Despite improvements since 2000, when the presidential outcome was delayed for weeks by problems counting ballots in Florida, the nation's voting system remains a locally administered patchwork whose lack of national uniformity distinguishes the United States from many other democracies.
Most complaints have come from Democrats and third-party candidates, but Republicans and bipartisan groups have acknowledged problems. The Government Accountability Office (search) is investigating election problems. Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio and chairman of the House Administration Committee, will oversee an inquiry next year.
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (search), created in 2002, is also scrutinizing the outcome. It plans to publish in January the government's first report on the voting, which will serve as the basis for congressional recommendations and reforms.