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Keep Calm and Let Counting Carry On

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After months of trepidation, excitement, anticipation, and—let’s face it—loathing, Election Day is finally upon us. Voting ends today, but the full counting process will take weeks. You should keep calm, and let the counting carry on.

More than 150 million ballots will be cast in the 2020 presidential election, which would make this one of the highest turnout elections in decades. That’s during a time of destabilizing political polarization and a once-in-a-generation pandemic. While the process has rapidly evolved to meet voters’ needs, we should all expect that every valid, eligible ballot is accurately counted no matter how long it takes.

The results you’re used to seeing on election night are always unofficial. Large increases in mail voting this year mean you should anticipate several days of delay in some states before the media can project winners.

Mail ballots take longer to verify and prepare for tabulation than ballots cast in person. In Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—two key swing states this cycle—election officials didn’t start processing mail ballots until 7 a.m. today, yet they will be dealing with far more mail ballots than in the past. Look at the numbers: In 2016, about 250,000 Pennsylvanians cast mail ballots; in 2020, about 2.5 million cast a mail ballot. In Wisconsin that year, 850,000 absentee ballots were cast; this year, that figure is approaching 2 million.

A longer period between the close of polls and the reporting of results does not indicate that something is wrong. Rather, it means that election officials are taking the time they need to produce a fair and accurate vote count while, as is the case in Pennsylvania, coping with a 10-fold increase in mail ballots.

Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are a stark contrast to their swing state sibling, Florida, where absentee ballot processing began 40 days ago. In 2016, 9.6 million Floridians in total turned out to vote. This year, nearly 9 million Floridians voted before Election Day even began. The state will release unofficial results tonight that include almost all ballots cast prior to Election Day. The results which also include much of the in-person voting totals, will represent a huge proportion of all ballots cast.

This variation among states is a natural consequence of the United States’ decentralized voting system. While news stories pour in as polling places close, keep in mind that initial results will continue to tally as more ballots are counted. Always check with your state and local election officials as your primary source of trusted elections information.

Voting ends today but this election season isn’t over yet. As votes are counted and tensions rise in the coming days, keep a level head, know that results will take time, and always seek out trusted information to put what you hear in context.

And, most importantly, remember to keep calm and let the counting carry on.