Why does it take so lengthy to rely ballots?

WASHINGTON — When the polls shut, the wait begins — and you might wish to get comfy, as a result of it may take some time earlier than we all know the winners and losers.

State election officers are reminding voters that it’s regular for it to take days and even weeks to know the end result — it took 5 days for President Joe Biden to be declared the winner in 2020, and a few races took even longer — however they are saying that’s the price of ensuring each vote is counted precisely in America’s extremely decentralized elections.

“It takes time to precisely tabulate hundreds of thousands of ballots,” two teams that characterize the nation’s secretaries of state and election administrators mentioned in a joint assertion Monday. “We implore voters and members of the me­dia to permit election officers to do their work.”

The method is painstaking. To make sure safety and keep away from hacks, some jurisdictions require poll packing containers to be bodily collected by truck and even helicopter, whereas others require ballot staff to drive by way of the evening with vote information on reminiscence playing cards. It is usually typically needed to trace down particular person voters to verify their votes are counted appropriately.

Nonetheless, some races could also be fast to name. And since Republicans must internet solely 5 seats to win the Home, that aspect of Congress may be determined quicker than the Senate, the place some key races may take days.

Listed here are some causes we may be ready: 

Shut margins

Shut races appeal to essentially the most consideration, however in addition they usually take the longest to resolve. 

When even a small variety of votes can sway an final result, public vote counters like NBC Information’ Choice Desk could await almost all ballots to be counted — which might take days — earlier than they make a name. And polls present neck-and-neck races in most of this yr’s key Senate races in states like Arizona, Nevada, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. 

On the flip aspect, if the midterms find yourself being a Republican wave, key races will possible be faster to name.

Mail ballots

Mail ballots can take additional time to rely, particularly as a result of numerous Individuals are voting by mail. 

Mail turned the commonest methodology of voting in 2020, because of the coronavirus pandemic. And whereas many Individuals are anticipated to return to their polling locations this yr, a number of states now conduct their elections largely or totally by mail.

The method takes longer as a result of the ballots haven’t been pre-screened like in-person votes, which is how ballot staff guarantee voters are eligible and assist them solid their votes.

The additional time it takes to rely mail ballots was liable for lots of the conspiracy theories concerning the 2020 election, as a result of Republican-leaning Election Day votes got here in first, whereas Democratic-leaning mail ballots have been added to tallies later. 

Mail ballots could arrive at counting places days and even weeks earlier than, however most states don’t enable election staff to start counting them earlier than Election Day.

A number of key battleground states, like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, now give poll counters extra time to arrange ballots for counting by doing issues like eradicating them from envelopes and checking signatures. However these states’ Republican-controlled legislatures blocked efforts to permit precise counting to start earlier, which officers say will gradual the rely. 

Furthermore, in particularly shut races, the outcomes could come all the way down to ballots that haven’t even arrived but. 

So long as ballots are postmarked by Election Day, many states will nonetheless settle for ones that arrive after polls shut to make sure voters aren’t disenfranchised by delays on the publish workplace.

As an illustration, Texas will rely ballots that arrive the subsequent day. North Carolina permits three days. Nevada permits 4. California and New York enable seven. Ohio and Alaska will nonetheless rely a poll that arrives 10 days late. 

Provisional ballots

Provisional ballots are sometimes the final votes to get counted. They’re backup ballots used provided that there are questions on voters’ eligibility.

Provisional ballots have nearly by no means swung an election, however they will delay outcomes, they usually have been a giant a part of why it took so lengthy to know the end result of the 2020 presidential election.

Provisional ballots are fallbacks for voters who, as an example, overlook to convey ID in states that require it. Or voters who could have moved or modified their names and forgotten to re-register. Additionally they assist voters who have been faraway from the rolls as a result of they hadn’t voted in a very long time.

If you happen to requested a mail poll after which present as much as vote in individual, you might be requested to make use of a provisional poll, so ballot staff can be sure you don’t vote twice.

All of these points take additional time to resolve.

Fortuitously for anybody longing for outcomes, provisional ballots have been simply one-eighth of 1% of ballots solid in 2020. However in a good race, vote counters like NBC Information’ Choice Desk could wish to wait till these ballots get counted to get it proper.

As an illustration, in 2020, Pennsylvania officers didn’t start counting provisional ballots till 4 days after Election Day. There have been about 85,000 provisional ballots within the state, which theoretically may have been sufficient for former President Donald Trump to beat Biden’s roughly 19,000-vote lead on the time. NBC Information and others have been lastly capable of name the state for Biden the subsequent day.

Recounts, re-canvasses and the courts

Twenty-two states have guidelines that set off computerized recounts if an final result is very shut, with the brink usually set at half of a proportion level. Virtually all others enable shedding candidates to request recounts, usually at their very own expense.

Some recounts could be fast. Some could be exceedingly gradual, particularly in the event that they’re executed by hand. The 2008 Senate race in Minnesota infamously took eight months to completely resolve as officers and partisan legal professionals meticulously examined particular person ballots.

Election officers might also re-canvass their outcomes, a faster course of that entails repeating the work they did to reconcile and confirm all their information. Many can even conduct post-election audits, which verify statistically vital samples of votes to verify there have been no errors.

At this level, the courts additionally usually become involved, which might even additional delay the method. 


Even when all of the votes are counted rapidly and with out query, we nonetheless could not know which social gathering controls the Senate because of Georgia. 

If neither Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock nor Republican Herschel Walker surpasses the 50% threshold required to win by state legislation, the race will head to a runoff election in December. Polls recommend that may be very doable with a Libertarian candidate polling at a number of % of the vote. 

Georgia could not show consequential for total management of the Senate, but it surely was in 2020, and it might be once more, when the destiny of Biden’s agenda could as soon as once more come all the way down to an additional time election within the Peachtree State.

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