As the 2020 presidential election approaches, election experts are warning more and more that the results may be delayed — but that is not cause for alarm. Due to the high volume of early and absentee votes cast this year, tallying the votes may take even longer than usual. The U.S. will likely not know who its new president is on Nov. 4, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.
As it is, results on Election Day itself have always been an estimate, usually developed late at night or in the early hours of the morning, based on the electoral college — not the popular vote of the citizenry. This year, many states expanded the parameters for mail-in ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic, and this is likely to extend the wait even more. Those ballots take longer to count, and in some states, election officials are not even allowed to begin counting until the polls close.
Absentee ballots are sealed in two envelopes to ensure privacy and security and are kept enclosed until the counting begins. Election officials must open both envelopes, unfold the ballot within and flatten it enough to be processed by a scanner, which tabulates the votes automatically. According to the AP, there are "several" states that cannot begin this process until Election Day, three of which are important battleground states in the 2020 presidential election: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
There are other states that have more efficient processes in place for counting mail-in ballots, allowing them to start weeks in advance to provide the results on Election Day. However, in the three states mentioned above, legislatures have denied requests from election officials to implement similar processes.
Still, some hope of knowing the results of the election on the night-of remains. According to the AP, if other key battleground states besides Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin all vote overwhelmingly for one candidate or the other, it could constitute a majority even before the votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are tabulated. Those states include Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, Iowa and Ohio, all of which began processing mail-in ballots early.