Since the COVID-19 pandemic has made peoples become fearful of voting in-person because in the US that often means waiting for hours in a queue.
Thus, millions more will vote by post and there are fears about it could take days or weeks to count them all, leaving the outcome on a knife-edge.
What usually happens on normal election night?
Which are different states will stop voting at different times.
The first polls to close are on the East Coast, at about 19:00 local time (00:00 GMT). After that, you start getting a running total as votes in those states.
The winning of the national vote is not the major requirement to pick the presidents. No, instead it’s a series of state-wide races with the winner in each state taking a certain number of what’s called electoral college votes.
A state is “called” for a candidate when media outlets believe one candidate has an insurmountable lead.
It is a projection, not a final result.
Similarly, when the whole election is “called” for a candidate, it is not the official result as well, because there are still lots of votes to count.
An election is usually called on the night. And what follows is a choreographed response, including a concession speech from the losing candidate. Perhaps not this year – more on that later.
In 2016, Donald Trump is calling an election at about 02:30 EST (07:30 GMT) after winning Wisconsin put him over the 270 thresholds of electoral college votes.
During the days and weeks, more and more Democratic votes have counted. That meant Hillary Clinton stretched her lead in the popular votes, yet the electoral college was already lost.
An unprecedented volume of postal ballots
Standing in a queue at a polling station on the Election Day is the most common way that American voters cast ballots. However, voting by mail is more and more popularity in recent years.
While it was previously not uncommon for states to restrict voting by post to special circumstances. For example, being a soldier who was serving abroad.
Now, the practice is widely permitted in a majority of states, whether one is an “absentee voter” or for any other reason.
In 2020, the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic has prompted an unprecedented, substantial number of requests from voters to cast ballots by post.
Some 80 million mail-in ballots are predicted to be cast, which doubles the number in 2016 and more than any other election year.
The concern, then, is about whether that volume of ballot deliveries will delay everything.
This fear is not just due to the large volume of ballots to count. This is because US Postal Service undergoing cutbacks at a time when it has a big responsibility as well.
First, it has to post ballot papers out to people. After that, it has to send them back again to election authorities, all before deadlines set by the states.
How are postal votes counted?
States have wide latitude over determining election rules, including setting deadlines for a postal vote to be qualified.
Pennsylvania will only include those received by 20:00 local time on Election Day, whereas California accepts votes as long as they are postmarked by the date, even if they arrive on weeks later. This explains why counting in the huge West Coast state always takes a long time.
Postal ballots’ counting takes a longer period of time. Because each vote must have a signature which has to match with a separate autograph on a registration card.
With the doubling number of postal ballots, that process alone will add time to the count.
Some states like Florida will begin processing the postal votes before Election Day. For example, verifying signatures, and start actually counting them on the morning of the election.
Yet most states and Washington DC do not start counting them until all the in-person voting is over and polls have closed.
The National Conference of State Legislatures has a full list of when each state counts postal votes.
What about in-person voting? Will that take longer?
The 2020 primary elections have also given voters a preview of problems that could mar in-person voting on Election Day. States from New York to Alaska struggled with running this traditional and still most common method of casting ballots.
This year, some perennial issues such as faulty voting machines or social distancing problem will make the queueing time become longer.
These led to changes that protracted the process.
Kentucky sharply cut the number of polling stations and had to order polls to stay open longer. Thus, people in lower-income areas had to travel much further to cast a vote.
That was hugely controversial, sparking accusations that the COVID-19 pandemic is being as a way to suppress minority votes.
Alaska forced all voters in some areas to use postal ballots because there is no polling station could open. At the same time, Georgia was faced with lawsuits over malfunctioning polling machines.
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Content source: https://www.bbc.com/news/election-us-2020-54096399