A roll of "I VOTED" stickers sit on a shelf as residents participate in early voting Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020, at a county courthouse in Maywood, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

EXPLAINER: A long night, or more, before U.S. president is known

Mail ballots generally require more time to process than ballots that are cast in person

There’s a fair chance Americans won’t know the winner of Tuesday’s presidential election while it’s still Tuesday — or maybe even Wednesday.

The main reason? Many states have made it easier to request a mail ballot amid the coronavirus pandemic and concerns about crowded polling places. But mail ballots generally require more time to process than ballots that are cast in person.

Different states, different approaches

Some states with extensive experience in using mail-in ballots have adjusted for those extra steps.

In Florida, clerks can start counting ballots 22 days before an election. In North Carolina, beginning five weeks before the election, county boards insert approved ballots into a voting machine, allowing for a prompt tabulation on Election Day.

But other states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, all with Republican-led legislatures and all of them swing states, made a conscious decision to wait. There will be no counting of mail-in ballots prior to Election Day, As a result, it could take days to tally enough ballots to project a winner.

The wrangling in the states over the use of mail-in ballots has come as President Donald Trump claims that mail voting is ripe for fraud.

Election Day isn’t always the deadline

And here’s another wrinkle that could delay the naming of a winner: In some key states, mail-in ballots can come in several days after Election Day and still be counted, as long as they are postmarked by then. Democrats have argued that the flood of absentee ballots and slow mail delivery in some areas makes such a precaution necessary.

For example, mail-in ballots from Nevada voters are not due until Nov. 10 if postmarked by Election Day. In North Carolina, mail-in ballots were not due until Nov. 12 if postmarked by Election Day.

There will be legal challenges

Polling indicates that a majority of Trump’s supporters plan to cast their ballot on Election Day, while more than half of Joe Biden’s backers had planned to vote by mail. Expect the Trump campaign’s legal team to challenge the validity of many mail-in ballots cast in critical battleground states such as Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

“We will have a sizable contingent of lawyers who will be ready to fend off any of the shenanigans that Democrats are trying,” Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign’s communications director, told reporters.

Some early signs?

While it’s unlikely the election outcome will be known Tuesday night, results from two states could signal which way it’s headed.

Both Florida and Georgia allow election officials to begin processing ballots weeks before Election Day, allowing the count to go much more quickly. The timeline for calling races in the two states probably won’t be much different than what voters have experienced in the past, unless the races are simply too close to call. If Biden wins either state, the prospects of a Trump victory are severely damaged. Same goes for North Carolina.

Kevin Freking, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Donald TrumpJoe BidenU.S. election

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Murder charge laid in February 2020 stabbing death of Smithers man

Michael Egenolf is charged with the second-degree murder of Brodie Cumiskey

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. seniors aged 90+ can start to sign up for vaccination on March 8

Long-term care residents protected by shots already given

A health care worker prepares to test a Coastal GasLink field worker for COVID-19. (Coastal GasLink photo)
Coastal GasLink begins COVID screening of pipeline workers

Construction is once again ramping up following Northern Health approval of COVID management plan

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

Chris Paulson of Burns Lake took a quick selfie with a lynx over the weekend of Feb. 20-22, 2021, after the wild cat was found eating some of his chickens. (Chris Paulson/Facebook)
VIDEO: Burns Lake man grabs lynx by scruff after chickens attacked

‘Let’s see the damage you did, buddy,’ Chris Paulson says to the wild cat

Older rental apartments are prime candidates for renovations, and could result in lost affordable housing stock. (Zoë Ducklow photo)
B.C.’s renoviction overhaul a good start, but won’t preserve affordable stock, lawyer says

And still no protection for people who can’t pay rent due to COVID-19

(Photo by Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze)
B.C. WHL teams to hit the ice with Kelowna, Kamloops hub cities

Kelowna, Kamloops centres chosen to host B.C. WHL teams for 24-game regular season

The machines are akin to ATMs and allow drug users at risk of overdose to get hydromorphone pills dispensed to them after their palm has been scanned to identify its unique vein pattern. (CANADIAN PRESS)
Feds dole out $3.5M for ‘vending machines’ to dispense safer opioids in B.C.

The machines are located in four cities across Canada, including Vancouver and Victoria

Kelowna’s lakefront visitor centre is one of 130 around the province. Tourism businesses have been hardest hit by COVID-19 restrictions on travel. (Destination B.C.)
Tourism, small business getting COVID-19 help, B.C. minister says

$300M grant program has delivered $50 million so far

The incident happened in downtown Castlegar. Photo: Betsy Kline
Castlegar teen recounts stabbing after stranger breaks into grandmother’s house

The unnamed teen survived a terrifying attack Feb. 21

(Black Press file photo)
Agassiz boy, 11, dies from ‘extensive injuries’: Homicide team

Agassiz RCMP were called out Friday to assist with a child in medical distress

Dr. Amit Desai of St. Francis Hospital receives a COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 17. (Photo courtesy of CHI Franciscan)
B.C. has now vaccinated more people from COVID-19 than total confirmed cases

B.C. has reached a milestone, vaccinating roughly 1.6% of its population from the coronavirus

Most Read