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HomeNewsWhy does it take so long to count ballots?

Why does it take so long to count ballots?

WASHINGTON — When the polls shut, the wait begins — and you could need to get snug, as a result of it might 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 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 thousands and thousands of ballots,” two teams that signify 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 bins to be bodily collected by truck and even helicopter, whereas others require ballot employees to drive by means of the evening with vote information on reminiscence playing cards. It’s also generally mandatory to trace down particular person voters to ensure their votes are counted accurately.

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

Listed below are some causes we may be ready: 

Shut margins

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

When even a small variety of votes can sway an end result, public vote counters like NBC Information’ Determination Desk might 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 facet, if the midterms find yourself being a Republican wave, key races will seemingly be faster to name.

Mail ballots

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

Mail grew to become the commonest methodology of voting in 2020, because of the coronavirus pandemic. And whereas many People are anticipated to return to their polling locations this yr, a number of states now conduct their elections largely or fully 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 employees guarantee voters are eligible and assist them solid their votes.

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

Mail ballots might arrive at counting places days and even weeks earlier than, however most states don’t permit election employees 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 organize 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 sluggish the rely. 

Furthermore, in particularly shut races, the outcomes might 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 submit workplace.

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

Provisional ballots

Provisional ballots are usually 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’ll delay outcomes, they usually had been an enormous a part of why it took so lengthy to know the result of the 2020 presidential election.

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

In case you requested a mail poll after which present as much as vote in particular person, you could be requested to make use of a provisional poll, so ballot employees can be sure you don’t vote twice.

All of these points take additional time to resolve.

Happily for anybody looking forward to outcomes, provisional ballots had been simply one-eighth of 1% of ballots solid in 2020. However in a decent race, vote counters like NBC Information’ Determination Desk might need to wait till these ballots get counted to get it proper.

As an example, 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 might have been sufficient for former President Donald Trump to beat Biden’s roughly 19,000-vote lead on the time. NBC Information and others had 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 automated recounts if an end result is very shut, with the brink usually set at half of a share level. Nearly all others permit shedding candidates to request recounts, usually at their very own expense.

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

Election officers may additionally re-canvass their outcomes, a faster course of that includes repeating the work they did to reconcile and confirm all their information. Many will even conduct post-election audits, which verify statistically important samples of votes to ensure 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 might 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 regulation, the race will head to a runoff election in December. Polls counsel that could be very attainable with a Libertarian candidate polling at a number of p.c of the vote. 

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

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