If you’re reading this – congratulations, you made it through election day, the cursed cherry sitting on top of 2020. But it isn’t over yet, because even though US President Donald Trump has declared an early victory, votes are still being counted. There are literally millions of votes that still need to be counted.
Once more, nobody has won this election yet. The magic number is 270 (electoral college votes) and neither Trump nor Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden have reached that.
If you want to see NBC lose it a little during its broadcast of Trump’s speech at the White House this evening, go ahead. Fun watch!
So, is the election over?
Despite Trump’s declaration and tweets that the election should end on November 3rd, counting doesn’t just magically stop at midnight.
The full count is never completed on election night. It’s just not physically possible to count every single vote – millions of them – by midnight. States aren’t expected to do that, either.
The Election should end on November 3rd., not weeks later!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 30, 2020
As political strategist and Biden’s campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillon, explained ahead of election day: “We won’t have all of the ballots counted when the polls close. We won’t even have them all on election night.”
That has always been the case, this is normal.
“It is no different to any other time, and that is not something Donald Trump should make you think is bad or wrong. It is the way it works,” she said.
How long will counting take?
We might not know for days.
Key battleground states like Pennsylvania, for example, don’t count postal votes until election day. That slows things right down.
According to NBC, Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf warned it will take “a few days” for their count to be completed.
In Michigan, where there has historically been slower reporting, the count will most likely take until Friday, November 6. In Wisconsin, results are expected between 3am and 6am on Wednesday, local time.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is Florida, which kicked off its counting process weeks before election day. That’s why we already have its result.
But again, this is all normal.
So what’s the go with postal votes?
For obvious reasons (read: the pandemic), mail-in voting has been the go-to in the election this year. According to the US Elections Project, a record-breaking 93 million early ballots were cast.
Postal votes can take longer to be processed though, because they need to be recorded and verified. In short, a voter’s signature and address on the ballot envelope needs to be checked against records and voter registration forms. If there’s no match, they get binned.
Some states have allowed extra time – up to three days in Pennsylvania, for example – for ballots to arrive after election day, as long as they’ve been postmarked on or before November 3. Under an order issued by the Supreme Court, Pennsylvania must accept postal votes that arrive up to three days after the election.
What’s all the talk about projections?
A winner can be “projected” by leading media organisations when its expert analysts believe a candidate has an unbeatable lead. So take the Associated Press for example, its Decision Desk only makes a call when the team is fully confident a race has been won.
This isn’t a final result, but organisations like AP are usually on the money.
Four years ago, AP correctly called the election at 2.29am the following morning. But that was in a pre-COVID world, when there weren’t as many postal votes to count. In comparison, Trump’s “victory” speech took place at around 2am on Wednesday morning.
What is Trump going on about then?
Trump has repeatedly pushed the unfounded theory that mail-in votes are somehow tied to voter fraud, despite a slew of judges across the US absolutely shitting on that claim.
He’s also threatened to mount legal action to stop counting after election day.
“I think it’s a terrible thing when ballots can be collected after an election,” he told reporters on Monday.
“The night of — as soon as that election is over — we are going in with our lawyers.”
If he does get lawyers involved, this could only delay things further.
So, what now?
As Biden said this evening, “It ain’t over ’til every vote is counted.”