A handbook to navigating the new normal of American elections.
We’ve finally made it to the day we’ve all been waiting for: Election Day.
… or, if you’re like us, the day we have been approaching with an ever-shifting mix of excitement, fear, hope, and trepidation – just like the slow, creaky incline of a roller coaster about to drop.
Today marks a new age in American democracy. Regardless of which party wins majorities in Congress or has success in state and local races, contested elections – in which results are drawn into question by a candidate or political party – are the new status quo. Election administrators, courts, and other government bodies will need extra time to resolve contested results. And it’s not going to get better any time soon.
Here’s what you need to know to get through the next few weeks:
1) Initial results will take longer in some areas than others. Election “night” is no longer: we must prepare for election week (or, weeks).
The results you see on election night are always unofficial, they are verified and finalized in the weeks that follow Election Day.
This period allows election offices to process and tabulate mail ballots, count provisional and military ballots, and check for any errors that might have occurred.
No state has ever had final results on election night. Mail ballots take longer to process than ballots cast in-person, which has contributed to a longer period of uncertainty after the polls close.
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.
For more on results reporting and mail voting, read Mail Voting is Safe and Secure. For more on the certification process, read Behind the Curtain of Post-Election Canvassing, Audits, and Certification.
2) Expect results to be contested. In close races, candidates will contest the results and demand recounts. In 22 states + DC, recounts are automatically triggered in close races. In others, candidates or voters can request a recount.
Contested election results do not indicate that there were problems with the election.
Contested elections will work their way through the courts and the winner of the election determined by existing state and federal law will be sworn into office.
3) Elections are human operations, and humans make mistakes. Small hiccups during voting, vote counting, or results reporting are natural and expected parts of the process, and they don’t mean that there are widespread problems.
The decentralized nature of our election system is one of its greatest strengths. Without any central election body or management system, U.S. elections are highly resilient to coordinated, comprehensive threats or attacks.
Elections are run primarily at the state and local level, and rules for how voting and counting takes place vary by state and even by locality.
When issues happen, they are quickly identified and addressed through rigorous and regular audits, checks and balances, and post-election canvass and certification.
Regardless of how you vote or who you voted for, Election Day is a celebration of the principle that everyone deserves to have a voice in our government. Election officials and temporary election workers make that principle a reality. This Election Week and every Election Week, they deserve our gratitude and support.
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