If you’re reading this, it means we’ve reached the early morning hours of Nov. 4 without a clear winner in the presidential race. This was expected.
The 2020 election has been complicated, and the process of determining the results will be no different. Early voting and voting by mail hit record highs this year as a side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.
These mail-in ballots take time to process and count, and each state has varying rules governing when officials can begin these processes. Processing ballots involves verifying the voter’s identity through means like signature verification.
Some states, like Colorado, process ballots as soon as they are received, while others, like Wisconsin, didn’t start processing them until Election Day. Counting mail-in ballots can begin in Florida 22 days before the election, while other states like Alabama prohibit counting mail-in ballots until after the polls close on Election Day.
States also have different rules determining how long they’ll accept late ballots postmarked by Election Day. Texas requires absentee ballots to be in by 5 p.m. the day after the election to count. Oklahoma requires they arrive no later than Election Day. Meanwhile, Washington state counts ballots arriving as late as Nov. 23, provided they were postmarked by Election Day.
Having such a disparate array of regulations from state to state isn’t ideal for getting quick results. That said, allowing each state to go through its own processes ensures that even amid the turbulent conditions of 2020, as many eligible votes as possible can be counted. It is democracy in action.
Sadly, there will be people who try to spin this as a negative.
President Trump has long claimed (falsely) that voting by mail is a gateway to widespread voter fraud, and it doesn’t appear his rhetoric will let up after the polls close. According to Axios, Trump has considered prematurely declaring victory.
Though Trump denied the claim, he also said “it’s terrible that we can’t know the results of an election the night of the election.” Trump also indicated his campaign would be “going in with our lawyers” as soon as the election was over. Chances are by the time you read this these events may already be in motion.
After so much uncertainty leading up to Election Day and the potential for long delays, it’s more important than ever to trust in our electoral processes and to know where to go for accurate information.
The Associated Press has long been the gold standard for reporting election results, and it is relied on by other publications around the country, including major news organizations like NPR.
With a complex network of journalists around the country reporting results, AP has the manpower, experience and resources to call races accurately and quickly. The publication does not project winners; it only calls races when the outcome is certain.
There will almost certainly be bad actors making bogus claims and spreading conspiracy theories while we wait for results, either to score political points or sow discord among the public. Don’t fall for it. Instead, follow credible sources to keep up with election results and trust that the time it will take to determine the outcome of each race is a commitment to getting the count right, not a nefarious plot to undermine democracy.