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Why You Shouldn’t Count on Tonight’s Election Results to Be Final

It’s no secret that the amount of early votes cast in the 2020 presidential election has reached a record high; just days before the election, we’d already surpassed 2/3 the number of ballots cast in 2016. Two things are clear: the country took advantage of safety measures put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and our nation is ready for change. 

It’s been four painstakingly long years since 2016 when Trump was elected. As a senior in high school, I remember attending classes the next day mourning our democracy and our nation’s worldwide reputation. I also remember the isolation and fear in seeing the glum Trump supporters who arrived that day wearing Trump Pence 2016 apparel, rubbing the defeat in our faces.

I knew then that Trump was going to be disastrous for the US, but I could never have predicted the sheer weight of this disaster. Now, Americans everywhere have the chance to vote him out, if they so choose, and statistics show that they’re trying to.

So on this fateful day, many of us are crossing our fingers to see how the election plays out. But it’s important to remember that no election can ever be officially ‘called’ on election day, so anything that is stated tonight is really just a projection. Plus, this year more than ever before, with the high quantity of mail-in ballots and extended deadlines for ballot acceptances from numerous states, we may not even be sure by the end of the week.

Here’s why. 

A suspected increase in provisional ballots

There’s evidence to show that provisional ballots are at a record high this year, which may cause a significant slow down in vote-counting.

For those of you that may be unaware, provisional ballots are ballots given in-person, on election day when there has been some sort of error. This can take the form of a voter who requested a mail-in ballot but then decided to vote in-person regardless, or when there is uncertainty about voter’s eligibility. Provisional ballots are usually kept separate until after all the other votes have been counted, and can still only be counted when they have been verified as eligible votes. As you might imagine, this knot could take weeks to tie up.

Usually provisional ballots are not a significant factor in deciding an election, but 2020 is not like any other, and it’s possible that with so many mail-in ballots requested that may not have been submitted, provisional ballots could increase in number today.


Tareq Ismail / Unsplash

The sheer quantity of mail-in ballots

Additionally, there are the mail-in ballots, which are coming in at a record high this year. According to the US Elections Project, just over 65 million absentee ballots have been returned as of today, with just over 27 million still outstanding. And with twenty two states accepting ballots as late as November 20th (California) and November 23rd (Washington), it’s not hard to divine that it might take longer than usual to count up all the ballots received by or after Election day when the deadlines may be almost three weeks away. 

There are some states, however, that have begun to count early ballots before the election, such as Florida, who has been counting early ballots in the weeks leading up to November 3rd. But then again, there are states like Ohio, who have been very transparent about the fact that they may not have statewide results until as late as November 28th. With each state deciding its own deadlines, the race to the finish will more likely resemble sporadic spurts of poll announcement coming in between now and December. 

The Electoral College doesn’t meet unitl December 14th

Not psyched about the possibility of waiting weeks to hear back about the results? Well, then I have some more bad news for you. The Electoral College will meet nationwide on December 14th to cast their votes, and it’s there that the true winner of the election will be decided. Although it’s likely that the predicted electoral college winner will be chosen on December 14th, the result still isn’t considered ‘official’ until then. Even with a few faithless electors – electors who break from their promised party – it would be rare that they could drastically change the outcome of the 2020 Presidential election, especially with a landslide win. 

All of this information serves to say that if there is a landslide win for either candidate, the projections will probably hold true in the coming weeks, even as ballots are counted and electors cast their votes. But, if there is no obvious winner at poll closing tonight, we may be in for quite the November. Especially seeing as Trump has threatened to contest the election and denied the security of the mail-in ballot system. But hey, this is 2020, so what else is new? As long as you voted and encouraged your friends and family to do so, you did your part. And if you went beyond that and phone-banked, donated or supported candidates via social media, you did more than your part. Whatever voter you chose to be, the deed is done. Now we must sit back and wait. 

Elizabeth Sander is a National Writer for Her Campus and a recent graduate from Tufts University, where she earned a BA in English and French. Elizabeth served as a Her Campus Editorial Intern for the Fall of 2020 and loved every minute. When not writing articles about all things culture and style (or the occasional personal essay), Elizabeth spends time creative writing, reading and working on flying crow pose. Next up on Elizabeth's agenda is Columbia J-School! Find her on insta @elizsander or for meals inspo @confinemnt_kitchn
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