Happy Election Day!
We have two pieces of advice. First, make sure to vote if you haven’t already. Then go on to home or work, and avoid almost anything you might see online or on the news tonight.
Why? Because rounding up the results of the 2020 general election will take more time than usual. And your patience — and making sure not to spread disinformation about the process — is appreciated.
First things first. Vote-counting always takes longer than one evening. The results reported on the news are almost always unofficial, preliminary counts. Tallying the final votes, no matter the state, can take days or even weeks. It has always involved sorting through absentee ballots, double checking totals from voting machines and checking for human error.
This is good. This is the way our process should work. We don’t often think about it because few races are close enough to be decided in the double-checking stage.
But 2020 is different. Far more people have decided to cast their ballots through the mail. According to early reports, far more people have decided to vote altogether. The United States is on track to have its highest turnout (as a percentage of the population) since 1908. And elections offices across the country are also having to navigate the same COVID-19 restrictions and regulations as everyone else.
In short, this means we won’t know the final totals — or even good estimates of final totals — for many states tonight. Each state sets the rules for its elections, which means there is no national, uniform standard. Some states that have expanded their absentee ballot programs aren’t allowed to open or process those votes until today. Some states have been processing those votes for weeks already.
Because many Democrats have chosen to vote by mail, and because many Republicans are choosing to cast their votes in person, we may see the leads in some races change throughout today and into tomorrow. This isn’t evidence of tomfoolery. Instead, it’s evidence that officials are doing their job to ensure a complete and total count of all eligible ballots.
It’s what all of us, no matter our party or ideology, should want.
So have patience tonight, and tomorrow, and perhaps for the rest of this week. We will know the winners soon enough.