Four years ago, there was no mystery about who would become the 44th president when polls on the West Coast closed at 11 pm, with all five TV networks and the AP calling the election for Barack Obama, who handily defeated Senator John McCain in the Electoral College.
“We might not be able to make a call on election night,” David Pace, the AP’s news editor for elections and special projects, said.
According to the Huffington Post, that’s not for lack of preparation. The AP has counted votes and declared winners in every presidential contest since 1848 and boasts an election night operation of over 5,000 people, including analysts, researchers, race callers and thousands of stringers in counties and townships across the United States to provide a vote count that's also used by the networks.
On Saturday, the AP ran through a full rehearsal using simulated votes, with 40 staffers in the DC bureau and race callers around the country.
But as sophisticated as the AP’s operation is, along with the broadcast and cable networks, executives and editors have not forgotten past election night debacles.
Most notably, the networks and the AP called Florida for Al Gore in 2000, only to either call the state for George W. Bush later in the night or hold off on a final decision until the Supreme Court rendered its verdict.
In 2004, networks were more cautious in not making definitive judgement on whether Bush or Senator John Kerry won until the morning following Election Day.
In addition to premature calls, another concern in 2012 is misinformation spreading on Twitter.
As the AP performed its election night dry run on Saturday, editors warned staffers about the pitfalls of tweeting or retweeting other news organisations' on Tuesday night calls.
However, the AP will be tweeting its own presidential election calls for the first time on Tuesday, just as the results are sent across the wire.
"We don’t get any pressure from our bosses to be first here," Pace said, adding: "We get pressure to be right.
CNN Washington bureau chief Sam Feist, who will oversee calls made on Tuesday night, said, "It's of no interest to me who's first, second, third, fourth, fifth.
"There may be a rush on the part of others, but there's no rush on the part of CNN," Feist added. "We're in absolutely no rush to make a projection. We're happy to be last.
CNN will not feature holograms on Tuesday — unlike on election night in 2008 — but will show off some virtual bells and whistles from the network's new Washington, DC studio.
News executives expect the quarantine process to prevent exit poll leaks from appearing online before the voting is done in each state.
"After poll closings, we will begin to report what we know and what we're seeing," said Anthony Salvanto, CBS News director of elections.
"We try to prepare for all kinds of possibilities," Salvanto said, adding: "We do a lot of research on every state and that includes collecting as much information as we can about the size of precincts, the size of counties, how they have voted in the past -- all the things that go into the model so when we get results, you're prepared to incorporate everything you know."