After days of vigorously refreshing browsers and keeping glued to the TV following Election Day, major media outlets have projected that Joe Biden is the winner of the 2020 US Presidential election. Even though Biden’s current lead is too large for President Trump to overcome with yet-to-be-counted ballots, many states are still working to officially certify election results
We have an apparent winner, but to make it official, local and state election officials first have to canvass and certify the results. As such, it’s reasonable to ask how much longer this election will take. The answer is not too long, but it won’t be immediate.
When it comes to canvassing and certifying, each state has its own timeline. We explain the processes below with a week-by-week breakdown of the timeline by state.
According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, canvassing refers to “the compilation of election returns and validation of the outcome [of the election] that forms the basis of the official results by political subdivision.” At the local level, canvassing means compiling the tabulated results from each in-person early voting and/or Election Day polling place, absentee ballots, and provisional ballots. At the state level, the process is the compilation of the local results.
Canvassing must be completed by certain deadlines, which can vary from within the week after Election Day, as in Connecticut and Alabama, to no later than a month after Election Day, as in California and West Virginia.
After the canvass is completed, results are can be certified. At this stage, the reports compiled by the local jurisdictions are reviewed and double-checked to ensure accuracy. Counties can individually certify results, but all states must have their results certified by the chief election official, which is usually the state director of elections or the secretary of state. Deadlines for certification vary by state in accordance with when they close their canvassing period.
State certification deadlines range from two days to over a month after Election Day.
While some media sources may project the winners of races long before these dates, those are just projections. The winner of each state contest is not final until the certification has been completed. For the presidential election, states have a hard deadline of December 14th, when electors of the Electoral College must meet and vote, to certify their results.
Finalizing the results was always going to take weeks. The American election system is doing exactly what it was designed for. Every vote is being counted and verified with precision and care, and we trust that election officials will do their jobs.