Counting All the Votes: When to Expect Election Results and Why It Takes Time
Following MAP’s State of Democracy Series, which spotlighted battleground states leading up to the election, we are providing analysis in the days after the election as votes are being counted.
Election Day has ended and voters have finished casting their ballots, but many important races at the national and state level remain undecided as votes continue to be counted. Senate contests in Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, and Nevada remain too close to call, along with gubernatorial races in some of those same states, in addition to a number of key U.S. House elections.
How quickly a state can tabulate election results depends on several variables such as the margin of the races, overall turnout, the percent of votes that are mail votes, and whether or not mail ballot have been pre-processed (e.g., envelopes opened and signatures verified in advance). Additional factors include whether there are legal challenges or runoffs, and the use of ranked choice voting.
Counting Every Vote
Vote counting continuing past Election Day is a normal occurrence. It takes time for democracy to work and for every vote to be counted, while also ensuring accuracy and fairness.
In terms of process, the majority of states count in-person votes before mail ballots. In most states, Democrats are more likely to vote by mail, which leads to a trend where initial results often favor Republican candidates, but margins then narrow as more mail ballots are counted later in the process. This so-called “blue shift”, or “red mirage” has been used in the past by Republican politicians to incorrectly suggest fraud or malfeasance without evidence.
In short, while the electorate waits for final vote tallies, those tallies do not necessarily mean a race is ceded. Overall, Election Day proceeded in a relatively smooth fashion. It is yet to be seen, however, whether candidates in close races will launch legal challenges or refuse to accept results. Recounts and runoffs could also be triggered in very close races, such as the Georgia Senate race, leading to additional time before winners are known.
When to Expect Results in Key States
Alaska: Races for the U.S. House and Senate, as well as the governorship, remain undecided with at least 25% of votes yet to be counted. Counting of mail ballots is expected to last up to a week as the state allows postmarked ballots to be received after Election Day. In addition, Alaska is using ranked choice voting for the first time this year, and if candidates in the House and Senate races do not receive a majority in the first round of votes, the additional tabulations that take place after voter’s first choices are counted will not occur until Nov. 23.
Arizona: Close contests for U.S. House and Senate, Governor, and Secretary of State remain too close to call with less than 70% of votes counted. Arizona counts early and absentee votes first, and with the bulk of remaining votes coming from Election Day voting, results may shift from favoring Democrats to favoring Republicans. The delay can also be attributed to a large volume of votes coming in on Election Day. Results are expected by the end of the week.
Georgia: Improved ballot processing policies in Georgia appear to have been successful at avoiding the delays seen in 2020. However, with roughly 95% of votes having been counted the U.S. Senate race remains too close to call. The contest is headed for a runoff election in early December, as Georgia law requires the winner to gain over 50% of the vote.
Nevada: Critical U.S. House and Senate races, as well as Governor and Secretary of State, remain undecided as less than 75% of votes have been counted in the state. Nevada is conducting all-mail elections for the first time, and the state accepts ballots that are postmarked by Election Day until Nov. 12. Close margins make it likely that results will not be decided for days.
Oregon: The governorship and a U.S. House race remain too close to call with less than 70% of votes counted. Oregon conducts all-mail elections and allows postmarked ballots to be received until Nov. 15, which can add to delays in close races, so results may not be known for up to a week.
Election Day may be over, but the election has not yet concluded as key races for the U.S. House and Senate, as well as critical statewide races, remain undecided. While Election Day concluded without major issues, control of the U.S. Congress may not be known for days or even weeks if Georgia is again the national focus in a runoff election. What we do know is that despite deliberate restrictions and barriers to voting, voters turned out. Now election officials are doing their important work for democracy to count every vote. When vote tallies take time, it’s a sign that our democracy is working.
MAP will continue to provide briefings as the week unfolds and new developments arise.