To expect a result Nov. 3 is logistically and mathematically unreasonable
Because US presidential election results are determined by Electoral College votes (as opposed to the Popular Vote), results at the state level are extremely important. In particular, the results of certain states (such as Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan) hold greater sway over the overall result of the election (google “swing states” – Pennsylvania is anticipated to be particularly important this election).
Due to the pandemic, mail-in ballots comprise a significant portion of the total vote this year. Mail-in ballots also present a logistical challenge – to count them, election workers must:
- check that ballots were signed and that signatures match the registered voter’s state-issued identification
- open the envelope
- read and accurately record all votes
It’s a process that takes time and a lot of concerted effort. In the states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, election workers cannot begin counting mail-in votes until 7am Election Day (Links to an external site.).
In the state of Washington, we have an established, tested system to count votes in this manner. Officials are allowed to record votes as soon as ballots arrive. Within this system, contentious races in recent years have still taken many days to reliably name a winner:
- In 2018, Jason Rittereiser (Links to an external site.) lost in the primaries by 0.65% (1,285 votes) – the race took 6 days to call
- In 2019, Kshama Sawant (Links to an external site.) won her seat by 4.1% (1,775 votes) – the race took over a week to call
- NOTE: election night results showed Sawant losing by 8% – that’s a 12pt swing over the course of a week+ as all votes were counted (i.e. last-minute ballot box drop-offs)
As a point of comparison, in 2016 Trump won the state of Wisconsin (a critical swing state) by 0.7% (22,748 votes). This is comparable to Rittereiser’s 2018 result – in a state with a well-established mail-in ballot counting system, it took 6 days to call the election. Jason’s results operated at a scale ~1/10 the size of the 2016 presidential election, an election in which over 1/3 of eligible voters did not vote (nationally).
By the numbers, it is unreasonable to expect a definitive result for the presidential election on election night. It is arguably unreasonable to expect a definitive result 1wk+ after election night.
*NOTE: These are included as instructive examples, NOT as an endorsement of the candidates themselves.
If you are an eligible voter in this election, ensure your vote is counted
Mail-in/Dropbox ballot submissions
Mail-in votes will only be counted if they arrive BY 8PM ELECTION NIGHT – the US Supreme Court ruled on this. When the ballot was posted does NOT matter – if it does not arrive, it will not be counted.
Dropbox – ballots must be placed in verified dropboxes by 8pm on Election Night or they will NOT count.
In both cases, if ballots have not been signed OR if your signature does not match your signature on your state-issued ID, it will NOT be counted – voters have until Nov. 5 to correct a rejected ballot (Links to an external site.).
If you are voting in the state of Washington, you can track your ballot here (Links to an external site.). If you voted elsewhere, google it – most states have some way for you to track and verify your vote.
If you have not yet placed your ballot in the mail (USPS), do NOT – at this point, it will not arrive in time and your vote will not be counted
If you are voting in King County and have not yet, fill out your ballot and drop it in a verified dropbox (Links to an external site.) ASAP (or anywhere in the state of Washington, just google locations before you go) – the sooner you do, the sooner it can be counted.
In-person voting ensures that your vote will be counted on Election Day. It does not risk having your vote rejected because it arrives late or because it wasn’t signed properly. If you are going to vote in-person, be prepared and know your rights, namely:
- Be prepared!
- Note: If you are voting in Washington state, you can register to vote at the polling location – this is true for other states but not all (google it to check)
- Google for any rules, namely:
- ID regulations – make sure you have what you need
- COVID precautions – make sure you are compliant and allowed entrance
- Apparel – in some states, you cannot wear clothing that endorses a candidate
- Selfies – some states do not allow ballot selfies – taking a selfie could result in your ballot being rejected
- If you are in-line before polls close at 8pm, you can still vote – do not leave your place in line.
- You cannot be coerced or intimidated (i.e. to vote for a specific candidate or to leave your place in line) – if you feel that coercion or intimidation tactics are being used, report it to the Election Protection hotline immediately 866-687-8683