As Kentucky voters wait to see which Democrat will challenge Mitch McConnell this fall, Americans are quickly realizing that there is a new normal for elections during the pandemic: We are not going to meet the winner on Election Night.
In recent months, the US states. USA They have seen a record number of their voters cast their ballots by mail as states expand and encourage their use during Covid-19. It is a change that means that election officials will need more time to count the votes as ballots flood the electoral offices on and after Election Day; some states count ballots postmarked before Election Day if they arrive in the days following the election.
There are concerns about how the US will react. USA Given the delayed results during the presidential elections disputed in November. Americans are used to the show on Election Night: presenters on major networks analyze and call for breathless races, and the afternoon culminates in an evening speech by the victorious candidates. It is highly unlikely to happen this year: Americans will wait a while to find out whether or not Donald Trump will be president for another four years.
“Delays during the primaries to get election results can teach the media and voters a valuable lesson: Processing and counting ballots in absentia takes longer than tabulating votes in person,” said Richard Hasen, a law professor at the University of California at Irvine. who specializes in elections. “The public, despite the inevitable anguish over the results of the November elections, must be prepared for the media to say that the presidential race is” too early to call “if it is close at the polling station.”
In Kentucky, the projected participation of the state’s top electoral official in the primaries would exceed 1.1 million votes. But that total includes only 271,000 who voted in person, either early or on Election Day. About 868,090 people requested absentee ballots in the state and as of Wednesday, 604,984 had been returned.
Many local Kentucky employees are waiting until June 30 to release the full results because the state allows ballots to be counted as long as they are postmarked on Election Day and arrive on Saturday. In New York, which also celebrated a primary Tuesday, valid absentee ballots will likely continue to arrive for the next few days, and officials won’t start counting them until next week.
Trump, who already makes unsubstantiated claims about mail fraud, could use that delay to make the election illegitimate if he loses in November, some concern. A particularly troubling scenario is one in which Trump appears to be ahead based on in-person results released on Election Night and then lags behind as more absentee ballots come in. An omen developed in 2018, when Republicans led several parliamentary races in California on Election Night and ultimately lost those races weeks later as more ballots were counted by mail (California is one of the states that allows that the ballots count if they have a postage stamp on Election Day and arrive on the following days).
“Everyone must be on guard against candidates who can prematurely declare victory before all votes are counted,” Hasen said. “I am especially concerned that Trump may attempt to do so, and cast doubt without any evidence on the ballots later counted as fraudulent.”
Counting ballots by mail is an arduous task that can differ between states. Several key states, such as Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, have laws in place that prohibit election officials from counting ballots by mail until Election Day. Authorities say those measures are unfeasible given the avalanche of mail ballots expected in November and will put poll workers under enormous pressure to count the ballots quickly. There’s a push in Pennsylvania, which took more than a week to count the June 2 primary ballots, and in Michigan for state lawmakers to allow officials to start processing the ballots earlier.
Some states allow election officials to begin counting ballots before Election Day, allowing them to report unofficial results on Election Night. In Oregon, which conducts its elections entirely by mail, officials can start counting ballots a week before the deadline to enter them. That initial lead allows election offices to continue an influx of ballots as election day approaches, said Andrea Chiapella, a spokeswoman for the Oregon secretary of state’s office. In Florida, where many people vote by mail, election officials can start counting ballots 22 days before Election Day. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, issued an executive order this month allowing officials to start counting ballots even earlier.
In April, Hasen and a consortium of electoral experts offered two key recommendations on how to preserve confidence in elections, even when it takes time to count absentee votes. They wrote that states should bring transparency to the absentee voting process and take steps to make sure ballots are counted as quickly as possible. Media organizations, they wrote, need to set an expectation for the public that there will be no winner on Election Night and should work to teach people about the processes in place to count the ballots.
“These efforts are likely to provide the strongest defense against misinformation about the electoral process or false accusations of widespread electoral fraud, which the media should also try to avoid amplifying,” they wrote in their report.