Democracy in Action

September 1, 2020 | By: Communications Staff

Election results will likely be delayed this year. That means we won’t know the results of who won on election night. This is a normal part of the democratic process.

Why do we have to wait? The reason is that many more people than usual (tens of millions) are voting by mail. Counting ballots takes time and some battleground states won’t start processing mail-in ballots until Election Day. In Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and parts of Michigan, for example, pre-processing ballots (getting them ready to be counted) doesn’t even start until Election Day.

Do you mean to say that every state does things a little different? YES! In fact, only 22 states and the District of Columbia allow postmarked ballots to arrive after Election Day. In Indiana, polls close at 6 or 7pm. There is no predetermined order for what types of ballot will be reported first and postmarked ballots cannot arrive after the deadline. Keep in mind that the order in which a state reports its ballots will also color the initial results we see on Election night and those results may change in the following days. Basically, whether a state releases counts from mail in ballots or in person voting first could skew the initial results.

Absentee voting, or mail-in voting, ensures that we have a safe, healthy, and fair election. Voting with a mail-in ballot isn’t new, and for Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington states, mail-in ballots have long been a primary method of voting. Over time, mail-in voting has grown in popularity. In the 2016 election, 24.9% of total votes were cast by mail. This year there has been a jump in mail-in votes due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Waiting for the official results means waiting to hear everyone’s voice. We can wait because our democracy is worth waiting for.

Learn More

This infographic from The New York Times shows how mail in ballots are processed. 

Every state does things a little different. See how states compare in the timing of their election results.

This study from the Pew Research Center examines trends in mail-in voting in 2020.

An analysis by the Brennan Center for Social Justice demonstrates how mail-in ballots are a safe and secure way to vote.

Want to be in the know with the latest library news?