2382: Ballot Tracker Tracker

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Jump to: navigation, search
Ballot Tracker Tracker
Good luck to Democrats in the upcoming Georgia runoff elections, and to the Google Sheets SREs in the current run-on elections.
Title text: Good luck to Democrats in the upcoming Georgia runoff elections, and to the Google Sheets SREs in the current run-on elections.


This comic was posted 3 days after the 2020 election day in the United States (November 3, 2020). As of the date of posting, the 2020 United States presidential election, between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, still had not been "called" for either candidate by most news outlets (called refers to projecting the results of the election). This was atypical for most US presidential elections, which were "called" either on election day or on the morning following.

A major reason for the delay in determining the results of the election was the greatly increased use of mail-in ballots, caused by social distancing concerns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mail-in ballots in some states were counted after the in-person voting, which caused delays in the vote-counting, and thus the projection of the winner.

As of the date of posting, the electoral vote counts - as called by most major news organizations - were 253-214 in favor of Biden, with 270 electoral votes needed to win the election. Six states were considered "too close to call", with no determined winner until more ballots were counted. Biden was winning the popular vote by about 4 million.

Cueball in this comic has created an app, doc, or website that tracks in real time how quickly "ballot trackers" update. A ballot tracker is a web page provided by a news organization that reports updated vote counts as they are published by the states. The news organizations use these counts as the major input to the "decision desks", which are their staff who analyze the ongoing vote results to decide when to declare a projected winner for a state. (See "Tracking Which News Outlets Have Called the Presidential Race in Each State") Cueball (representing Randall) is anxiously awaiting resolution to the long election season. He is not only anxiously checking to see if the race has been decided, he is also predicting how close the race is to being decided by constantly checking the ballot trackers to see how they change, as well as keeping track of which sources of tracking information most quickly show updated information on which to base those predictions.

The last line of dialogue in the comic, where Cueball says, "I will breathe when they call it", may refer to the idea that many people "hold their breath" when waiting for an important result, so people may hold their breath until the Presidential race is called. However, since this time around the announcement could have taken days if not weeks longer, literally holding one's breath until the winner was announced would not be possible.[citation needed] As it happens, the election was called for Biden the morning after this comic was published, about 3½ days after the election, although Trump was still attempting to challenge the results in court, which would make holding one's breath until all appeals and recounts are complete an even worse idea than if he had conceded.

In the title text, Randall wishes good luck to the Democrats in the state of Georgia who are running in later run-off elections. Two Senate seats were being voted on in the state of Georgia in 2020, but no candidate achieved over 50% of the vote in either race. It is highly likely that these runoffs will determine control of the Senate. By law in the state of Georgia, these two races will be decided in "runoff" elections, where the top two candidates from each of the races run against only each other, on January 5, 2021. Randall also wishes good luck to the SREs (Site Reliability Engineers) of Google Sheets, an online spreadsheet program, who are in charge of maintaining the Google infrastructure while people like him are constantly refreshing their sheets and pulling data. Randall is comparing Georgia's upcoming "runoff" election to the current election, calling it a "run-on" for how long it is taking.

The theme of recursive naming is a recurring one in xkcd, most recently with the "contact tracer tracing program" in 2376: Curbside.


[Cueball is sitting behind a desk, pointing at a laptop. White Hat is standing behind him. Crumpled up papers are strewn across the ground. ]
Cueball: And this tab is my ballot tracker tracker, which tracks how quickly other ballot trackers update.
White Hat: You should add a tracker for how often you breathe so you don't forget.
Cueball: I will breathe when they call it.

comment.png add a comment! ⋅ comment.png add a topic (use sparingly)! ⋅ Icons-mini-action refresh blue.gif refresh comments!


In the title text, Randall explicitly endorses candidates for one party. He's said things before to suggest which side he's pulling for, but has he ever done so explicitly like this? If not, it should be mentioned. DKMell (talk) 17:54, 9 November 2020 (UTC)

He endorsed Clinton in 2016 through a comic. https://xkcd.com/1756/ 14:41, 11 November 2020 (UTC)

Could this also refer to sites that track whether one’s ballot has been counted? -- 03:31, 7 November 2020 (UTC)

This sense of "calling it" is relatively uncommon, especially for non-native English speakers to encounter. Although having it in quotes is good, some explanation should be added in parentheses. 04:13, 7 November 2020 (UTC)

See English.stackexchange.com Barmar (talk) 07:50, 7 November 2020 (UTC)

I remember an earlier comic,Cueball trying to incinerate an incinerator.(xkcd1821),and people tracking trackers(xkcd2376),Maybe there should be a "meta-usage" category?(e.g using an incinerator to incinerate another incinerator,using a tracker to track a tracker etc.) Xkcdjerry (talk) 13:34, 7 November 2020 (UTC)

The current explanation refers to a ballot tracker as a government site, but I believe they're typically independently provided by either news organizations or political information websites. However, I decided not to edit the explanation yet until someone else confirms they have the same interpretation of the term "ballot tracker" here. Ianrbibtitlht (talk) 14:27, 7 November 2020 (UTC)

Well, I see that the next paragraph talks about "ballot tracker" in the context of my interpretation, so I'm not sure whether to modify the first paragraph that mentions government sites or not, but I would support removing that first part and just simplifying it to talk about the news organization interpretation of the term. Other input from anyone? Ianrbibtitlht (talk) 14:31, 7 November 2020 (UTC)
I strongly agree that the correct interpretation for "ballot tracker" is the various sites that provided updates on the ongoing ballot counts at the various states. I think the first interpretation of sites where individual voters can check their ballots is wrong. It especially does not make sense to track how quickly those sites update, since one voter can only view the one site for their ballot, and can't see it updating at some frequency. On the other hand I was an example of the topic of this comic. I obsessively refreshed the New York Times tracking pages to add numbers to spreadsheets graphing trends while also refreshing the live blog at fivethirtyeight.com. As a result I noticed that the live blog quoted results from tracker site Decision Desk HQ several minutes before the same results from the states appeared on the NYT tracker page. I consider myself an example of the target of this comic using that interpretation. Bugstomper (talk) 21:39, 7 November 2020 (UTC)

The article that is linked to is not about tracking tracker sites. The article title is "Tracking Which News Outlets Have Called the Presidential Race in Each State". The article tracks which news sites have called which states. Each such news site presumably has a tracker page for each state in which they display the current reported vote counts. Cueball's tracker tracker is tracking how often each news site's tracker pages are updated with new counts. Each news agency has a "decision desk" which uses the data from their tracking page plus other related information to decide when they will declare a projected win for a candidate in a state. That is referred to as "calling" the race in a state. Bugstomper (talk) 06:45, 8 November 2020 (UTC)

Well now AP's called it. Biden won. bubblegum-talk|contribs 06:57, 8 November 2020 (UTC)
(hm, my name looks to be in a different font than the timestamp, odd)

Also, is anyone up for creating a recursive names category?
News organizations may have called it, but states still have to certify the results, and certification in some states can't happen until pending litigation has finished making its way through the court system, which will take a few weeks. Dogman15 (talk) 11:04, 9 November 2020 (UTC)

this makes me think of stud finder finder(Please Sign)

Which will be better, "recursive names" "recursive use“ or "meta-use"? (I think there's enough to make a category about -- 956,1821,2376 and maybe this one deciding on how it's interpreted). Xkcdjerry (talk) 15:32, 9 November 2020 (UTC)

How about just "Recursion"? --NotaBene (talk) 16:57, 9 November 2020 (UTC)
The Explanation gives me a good idea, "Rurcive Naming" will be nice.

There must be a a tracker that tracks when Randall updates the comic ... Where is that? How does it run? Is it open source? I want to make a tracker that tracks it ... 20:13, 9 November 2020 (UTC)

Are we sure this is cueball in the panel? I mean it looks like there is some hair on his / her scalp. -- 18:52, 10 November 2020 (UTC)

Is White Hat being sarcastic, or is he genuinely concerned for his friend's well-being? 18:21, 30 January 2021 (UTC)