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Ask Marilyn: How Do We Know Who Voted for Whom?
Linda Santa Maria of Williamsville, New York, writes:
Marilyn: If my vote is private and there is, in fact, a secret ballot, how is it that we hear reports that say, for example, 43 percent of single women, 29 percent of Hispanics, and 23 percent of Catholics voted for so-and so? How are these votes known?
The numbers come mostly from exit polls. Polling places are selected randomly, and interviewers ask certain designated voters (every fifth or tenth voter, for example) to participate as he or she is leaving. Voters who agree fill out an anonymous form. When a voter declines to participate, interviewers note some basic information about him or her, such as sex, age range, and race, if known. This information is factored into the statistical analysis so the results are not skewed too much.