If you’re planning an election night party, there’s one thing you should know: the results will take a while. It could be days before the results of these midterms are known – maybe weeks if there are runoffs and recounts.
In fact, it might be time to do away with the terms “election day” and “election night” altogether. It’s more like “election season”. Better get your chips and salsa.
This turn of events, contrary to some conspiracy theories, is not a cause for alarm. It’s a sign that every vote is being carefully counted and that some states have increased voter turnout by expanding access to specific polling stations at specific times on a specific day.
Each state decides for itself how to conduct its elections. In Brandeis’ famous phrase, states are “laboratories of democracy” within our political system.
There are many similarities nationwide. Forty-six states offer early in-person voting. More than half allow voters to cast absentee ballots or vote-by-mail for any reason. Eight states automatically mail ballots to all who are registered.
But each state also adapts the procedures in the way it sees best – democracy in action.
In Colorado, where every voter receives a mail-in ballot, polling officials begin verifying signatures and validating ballots as soon as they arrive. The actual count begins 15 days before Election Day, but totals cannot be released until physical polling stations close.
In Michigan this year, employees in major cities can start processing absentee ballots two days before Nov. 8, but they won’t be able to count them until that morning. Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, on the other hand, won’t even open postal or mail-in ballot envelopes until Election Day.
As might be expected, the results take other forms as well. Many states can and do soon after polls close, along with their same-day votes, early and absent results. However, states that don’t have a head start on processing absentee ballots and mail-in ballots won’t get full results quickly.
Even in the fastest states, results are trickling in. The numbers you see Tuesday night won’t be definitive. Those in the media who “call” elections may be able to accurately gauge the outcome in many states and races. But with so many contests getting very close and tens of millions of early, mail-in and mail-in votes to be counted, we can’t wait to finish Tuesday with certainty. Some big implications of this choice — for example, which party will control the next Congress – may not be clear.
We learned that lesson in 2020, when news sources waited four days to declare Joe Biden president-elect and control of the Senate was not established until January after a Georgia runoff.
Our multifaceted approach to elections may not be immediately satisfying, but it works: elections in the United States are remarkably accurate. The states’ professional audits and recounts prove it. Georgia counted its votes three times in 2020 and the result was unchanged.
Among the many tragedies of the “Big Lie” – the fiction that Donald Trump was denied victory in 2020 by rampant voter fraud – is needless hostility to our state-based system. Some wonder why we can’t be more like other countries where elections are centralized and the results seem instantaneous.
But our federalist patchwork is also a safety mechanism. America’s elections are safer because They are decentralized. The 2018 midterm elections used more than 200,000 polling stations, with coverage running through constituencies, counties and states. Such an individualized system is impossible to hack. Of course there are things we can learn from other countries and there is always room for some unified, nationwide processes. But we should also value our state variations.
Allegations of rampant fraud in 2020 were pure nonsense, as more than 60 court cases have proven. Unfortunately, they’re flooded into 2022. Politicians across the country are campaigning with outright lies about our elections. Some have even indicated that if they lose, they will not accept the result.
Admirably, state election officials are responding with sunlight — explaining exactly what the counting process will be like to voters and advising patience.
In Michigan, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson urged voters to expect unofficial statewide results about 24 hours after polling stations close. Professional administrators would prioritize accuracy over speed, she said.
“Voters should be wary of the likelihood that some will use this time and space to spread misinformation and lies about the tabulation process and preemptively claim results,” Benson said. “Remember that only a complete listing of all valid votes determines the winner in an election campaign.”
In Pennsylvania, which counts more than 1.4 million mail and absentee votes, Leigh Chapman, Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth, carefully guided voters through the process on the state’s website and in an op-ed in Pennsylvania newspapers. She explained that representatives of candidates and political parties would monitor every step. “An accurate count is of the utmost importance and cannot be rushed,” she wrote.
While we await results, we should take our bearings from these responsible state officials.
So make yourself comfortable. Be wary of a contestant claiming victory before the full results are in. Give state and local officials the time and space to do the work of verifying and counting. If the TV analysts’ touchscreen cards are filling you up too slowly, take a deep breath, watch a live stream of the vote count, and rest assured the process is working.
Our elections take time for the best reason: In America, we count every valid vote so everyone has a vote.
It’s worth throwing a party for.
Joanna Lydgate, Norm Eisen and Christine Todd Whitman are co-founders of States United Action, a non-partisan group focused on US election protection.
https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-11-07/election-administration-vote-count-federalism-voter-fraud Op-Ed: Get ready to wait for the midterm results