‘It could be a mess’: Why U.S. election results could be delayed days or weeks

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As the U.S. election nears, Americans and people all over the world are waiting with bated breath to see whether it will be four more years of President Donald Trump, or if former vice-president Joe Biden will be elected to the country’s highest office.

However, experts say we might not have all of the results come election night.

Different rules in different states

Matthew Lebo, political science department chair at Western University, said it’s a “50-50 chance it will be done on election night.”

Lebo said results could be several days late, because each state is in charge of running the election in its own jurisdiction.

“And then within states, counties can do it differently,” he explained. “So you have different rules for how you can vote, different rules for when you can go, different rules for how votes are to be counted.”

This means in some states, ballots received by mail after election day will not be accepted. These states, Lebo explained, will likely have all of the votes counted on election night.

“But some states will allow votes that are put in the mail by election day that will still be coming in afterwards,’ he said. “And then some states will have provisional ballots that they will still be counting for days afterwards as they sort things out.

“So it could be a mess.”

A tally from the U.S. Elections Project said by Tuesday, Oct. 27, more than 70 million Americans had cast their ballots early, a number more than half the total turnout of the 2016 election.

This year, many Americans have opted to vote by mail, as the country continues to grapple with the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.

Data collected by The Associated Press found that by early Wednesday, at least 35 million mailed ballots had been returned or accepted.

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However, an estimated 1.9 million ballots were still outstanding in Florida, along with 962,000 in Nevada, 850,000 in Michigan and 1 million in Pennsylvania.

Some states have enough experience that their counts usually go quickly and smoothly, while other counts are more problematic.

Florida and North Carolina are two key battleground states that have, historically, done well at counting and posting the results of mail ballots on election night.

Others, though, cannot begin processing mail ballots until election day, meaning it could be days until results are released.

A full list of the when mail-in ballots processing and counting can begin in each state can be found here.

Andrea Perrella, an associate professor of political science at Wilfrid Laurier University, previously told Global News that there could be delays with sorting, delivering and verifying each mailed ballot.

“Unlike an in-person ballot, it takes a little longer to validate a mailed ballot because you have to check to see if the ballot is legit,” Perrella said.

Perella said voting in-person could also take longer, due to the “extra care” that needs to be taken in order to keep people socially distanced due to the novel coronavirus pandemic — “unlike other elections with people standing alone or shoulder to shoulder.”

Swing state results

According to Lebo, while results may trickle in slowly from a number of states, some are more important than others.

He pointed to Pennsylvania as an example, saying results from the state will be “slow, important and close.”

With 20 electoral votes, Pennsylvania has been identified as one of several competitive swing states this election cycle.

As of Wednesday evening, political analyst website FiveThirtyEight said Biden is “favoured” to win the state.

Similarly, Decision Desk HQ said Pennsylvania was “leaning Democrat.”

However, Lebo explained that on election night, results may suggest Trump is in the lead, but that could change as mailed-in ballots are collected and counted over a few days.

Postmarked ballots can arrive as late as Nov. 6 in Pennsylvania, which is when the state’s top election official Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar said she expects the “overwhelming majority” of votes will have been counted.

Results may be “pretty obvious”

While Lebo said “it’s possible” we won’t know the outcome on election night, it could also be “pretty obvious” Tuesday evening.

He pointed to recent polls which indicate Biden is in the lead in a number of key states.

“(Biden)may be ahead by an insurmountable lead in Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin, he might be looking at 350 or more electoral votes on election night,” he said.

He added, though, that even if this is the case, it will still take “weeks” for states to certify the results.

“You know, you wouldn’t bet your life that the election is over until Inauguration Day,” he said.

By Wednesday evening, both FiveThirtyEight and Decision Desk HQ projected a Biden victory.

But Lebo said even if the polls are correct, he doesn’t expect Trump will concede defeat on election night.

“I really don’t expect that.” he said.

— With files from Global News’ Emerald Bensadoun and The Associated Press

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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