Updated Nov 8, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Why we may not know election results on Tuesday

People cast early ballots in the upcoming midterm elections at a polling station on November 01, 2022 in Anchorage, Alaska.

People cast early ballots in the upcoming midterm elections at a polling station on Nov. 1 in Anchorage, Alaska. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Results for the highly anticipated midterm elections may not come for days, or weeks, after voting concludes — and that's not a sign that the process isn't working.

The big picture: A number of factors could contribute to election results dragging past Tuesday, including processing and counting ballots and election rules in key battleground states.

Between the lines: The 2022 midterms come as election deniers are on ballots nationwide — and those candidates could use delays to promote baseless claims that elections were rigged.

  • Some candidates have already declined to say whether they would accept the results of the election in their states.

Flashback: The 2020 presidential election — which saw the highest percentages of Americans voting by mail than any recent election — was not officially called by major news outlets until days after voting closed.

  • Former President Trump railed against mail-in voting to his supporters in the lead-up to Election Day. Then when the method was more commonly used by voters who supported Biden, Trump used that reality to falsely say the election was stolen.
  • "We don’t want them to find any more ballots at 4 o’clock in the morning and add them to the list," he said in 2020.

Zoom out: Elections in the U.S. are conducted by state and local officials and jurisdictions have different rules for carrying out the process.

  • Here's a look at some key battleground states that may not have complete election results on Tuesday — and why that's no reason to panic.
Georgia
  • Georgia's Senate race, which could be pivotal to determining which party controls the chamber, is among the closest in the country — and it may take some time before a winner emerges.
  • Candidates in Georgia must secure at least 50% of the vote to win, per state law, and if no candidate does that, the top two advance to a run-off on Dec. 6.
  • Officials in Georgia are allowed to begin processing mail and absentee ballots ahead of Election Day, per the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
Arizona
  • Arizona elections officials can begin counting early ballots upon receipt. The majority of voters in Arizona typically cast ballots early, per the Arizona Mirror.
  • "It will take several days for counties to finish processing early and provisional ballots, so expect results to continue to be reported for several days," per the state's secretary of state office.
  • There's an added chance of a recount in Arizona after lawmakers passed a bill that increases the automatic recount threshold from one-tenth of 1%, to one-half of 1%.
Pennsylvania
  • In Pennsylvania, which could also determine Senate control, election officials are not allowed to begin processing absentee and mail ballots until the morning of the election, per NCSL.
  • "We understand that voters, candidates and the media want election results as soon as possible," Leigh Chapman, Pennsylvania's acting secretary of state, said last month.
  • "But counting all the eligible votes and reporting the results take time, and counties are rightfully focused on accuracy over speed."
Michigan
  • In Michigan, election officials are also not able to begin counting absentee ballots until the morning of Election Day.
  • A law passed this year allowed officials to begin processing absentee ballots before the election, but some counties did not have time to adopt the change, per MLive.
  • "There is a reality that the workflow of counting absentee ballots is really time-intensive," Ottawa County Clerk Justin Roebuck said during a news briefing, per the Detroit Free Press.
  • "Beyond the speed, we want to make sure that it's right," Roebuck said.
Wisconsin
  • In Wisconsin, where incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson (R) faces Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D), election officials are not able to begin processing early and mail ballots until after the polls open on Election Day.

Go deeper... Lessons from pro-Trump election breaches across America

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