The three major television networks pledged this week not to project a winner in this November's presidential election before the polls are closed in any state.
Speaking before a hearing of the Senate Rules Committee on Thursday, representatives of ABC, CBS and NBC refused to make that commitment permanent, however, unless Congress institutes a uniform closing time of the polls across the country. All three networks said they favored legislation to close the polls in the continental United States at 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time during presidential elections.
A spokesman for NBC told the committee that it is currently strict network policy to predict election results in any particular state only after the polls have closed in that state. If a uniform poll closing system were in place, the representative said, the network would not use any voter exit polls to project or characterize the outcome of a national election.
But Rep. Al Swift (D-Wash.) showed a videotape of NBC indicating that Michael Dukakis would score a big win over Jesse Jackson in the recent New York primary, even though polls, at the time of the pronouncement, were still open across the state.
Swift is an avid supporter of legislation that would close the polls in national elections 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 by the House last Nov. 10, and network representatives said they would not be able to wait until the polls closed in those two states before declaring a presidential winner. The Senate has yet to vote on the bill.