Delays possible in Election Day decision

With high voter turnout, a projected close election and a record number of mail-in ballots, results could be postponed for days or even weeks after Election Day. Photo illustration by Chase (Junyan) Li | Photographer & Videographer

By Ava Dunwoody | Staff Writer

Though the polls close at 7 p.m. on election night, there is a chance that the results won’t come in for days due to mail-in ballots or a contested election. If it’s anything like the 2000 election, it could be weeks before a winner is declared.

Benjamin A. Kleinerman, Baylor RW Morrison chair of political science, said there is also a chance there won’t be a delay, especially if the race isn’t close. But as of right now, he said, he anticipates America won’t know who won until after Election Night.

“I’d be surprised if it’s announced on Election Night,” Kleinerman said. “I think especially with all the absentee ballots, it’s going to be a while before everything gets counted. Some states don’t start counting the early ballots until Election Day.”

McLennan County Elections Administrator Kathy Van Wolfe said McLennan County anticipates counting all votes on time. She said the “early voting results will be reported between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m,” and day-of votes will be counted as they come in.

“We are already going through comparing signatures and opening the ballots this week, but we don’t actually scan them until Saturday, and we won’t actually tally them until Election Day after the polls close,” Van Wolfe said.

Since McLennan County has a population of over 100,000, Van Wolfe said they are able to start processing the ballots early. She also said there is a large increase in the number of mail-in ballots they have received for this election.

In “previous [Presidential elections], we normally saw about 6,000 [mail-in ballots], and in this election, we have over 9,000,” Van Wolfe said.

The increase in mail-in ballots is in part because of COVID-19 and has created more work for Election Day counting, Kleinerman said. In the 2016 election, about 25% of votes were mail-in and absentee.

So far, about 80 million people have voted, with around 51 million of those votes being mail-in. Americans have currently cast 57.3% of the total votes from the 2016 election.

“If it’s one or two states that tip the ballots in one direction or another in the electoral college, and those states are sufficiently close, then there will be a demand to recount the ballots,” Kleinerman said. “That’s what the contested election looked like in 2000 where we didn’t know for a month or so after the election who won.”

In the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, results were not announced until Dec. 12, 34 days after the polls closed. This was because of the contestation in Florida, which the Supreme Court ruled in Bush v. Gore case that Bush won Florida’s electoral votes by a mere 537 ballots.

Kleinerman said in this election, “there could be some contestation if it’s really close in numbers.” This would mean that the results of the election would be delayed until a satisfactory recount could be completed.

In the 2016 election, the results were in by 1:45 a.m. the morning after election night, announcing President Donald Trump had won. Van Wolfe said she hopes the timeline will be similar in this election, as they are doing everything they can to ensure an accurate and quick tally.

“We hope every election goes smoothly,” Van Wolfe said. “We have early voting — the last day is Friday — and the polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day. We are hoping that since we’ve had so many people vote early and also vote by mail, the lines won’t be so long on Election Day.”