Headline, Politics

Election 2022: Why does counting take weeks to confirm results?

While ballot tallies are announced the same day, results remain unofficial until states complete their review

By Kiran N. Kumar

As the midterm elections finish Tuesday, the wait for final results may take typically weeks to a month due to the long but laborious counting system adopted by each state.

Midterms are to choose some members of Congress, state and local officials, but remain decisive and seen as a referendum on the performance of the President.

Read: Election 2022: Kamala Harris frames elections as the fight for democracy (November 7, 2022)

Since the Constitution has left the details of the election process and manner of holding midterm elections of senators and representatives to the states, each of the 50 states has developed its own fool-proof system to ensure that every vote counts and the result validates the real will of the people, upholding the true democratic set up.

Despite the use of voting machines which can deliver the results on the same day, the decentralized election process has given each state its own method of voting, review and counting.

Though the release of ballot tallies is announced on the same day, results remain unofficial until the checking, review and correcting of all votes is undertaken by each county and state.

States such as Florida and Georgia give local election offices several weeks before Election Day to process mailed ballots, including checking signatures or ID information providing an advantage to announce results quickly.

Michigan has restricted this pre-election period to just two days. But in other states, including Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, officials can’t start the process until election day, which means those ballots might not get counted until the next day or even later.

In some states, voting takes place weeks and days in advance starting with the mailbox, a drop box or voting personally at an assigned polling place in the neighborhood until the final election day.

And the voting could be in the form of paper ballots marked by hand and then scanned on machines that feed votes directly into a vote-counting computer machine, though the hand-marked ballot system is widely used.

Read: Indian Americans in race for 2022 mid-term elections (November 6, 2022)

Review of ballots
Once the voting comes to an end Tuesday, election officials and volunteers transfer them to the local elections office of the county or city where the ballot tallies will be posted on the same day on its website pending the verification and reviewing of all the ballots cast.

Besides the officials, party volunteers or members of party canvasses will review the ballots for possible problems such as missing signatures in votes mostly sent by mail.

As many states have a provision to allow voters to fix such errors, election officials contact those voters who should appear in person to validate their vote.

Once the local canvass board is satisfied that all the ballots have been counted properly, local officials review them again and certify that the results are official.

Most states give counties or cities one to three weeks to complete the entire process of review while a big state like California even allows up to 30 days for the review.

While the indicative tallies posted on websites immediately after the election day reflect the major trend, in very close contests a different candidate may end up the winner.

And this widens the scope for suspicion which is removed by the long and laborious method of counting that follows. Especially, when conspiracy theories surface, the delays get longer.

In some small towns even hand counting was resorted to in the past to reach accuracy. For instance, Cobb County in Georgia hand-counted 397,000 ballots involving hundreds of people over a period of five days in the 2020 presidential election. Otherwise, hand tallies are undertaken for a sample of ballots to authenticate the machine counting.

Read: Election 2022: Desis galore running from Arizona to Wisconsin (November 6, 2022)

Controversy over delay
After the 2020 presidential election, President Donald Trump kicked off a major controversy when he said the lack of final results on election night could be an indicator of something nefarious and even alleged that 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.

Republicans have often perceived such delay in final results as a reason to be suspicious and question the integrity of elections but the truth is that the results posted on election night are always unofficial and inevitably change as more ballots are counted.

A Republican candidate may be leading if Republican voters dominate the in-person election day voting but his lead slips if Democrats had preferred mail ballots.

In August, Kari Lake, the Trump-endorsed Republican candidate for governor in Arizona, tweeted vouching for the election night results whereas the state requires all ballots including mailed ones must be returned by 7 pm on election day, and officials have 20 days to count them.

Read: It Took Two Weeks to Call Every State in 2020. This Is When to Expect Results This Year. (November 8, 2022)

“We’ve got to get our elections reformed so that every Arizonan, whether they be Democrat, independent, or Republican, when they go to bed on election night they know the winner and they’re satisfied that it was a fair election. We don’t have that right now,” Lake said, extending the scope for a debate over the issue.

Perhaps the best reply to delays in counting comes from Noah Praetz, a former elections clerk in Cook County, Illinois, who said that it’s possible to have quick results, but the US has “decided to make voting accessible to everybody and let us vote on everything.” So is every election, including the 2022 midterms.

Read: Election 2022: Indian American Impact launches WhatsApp tipline (November 4, 2022)

READ: Elections 2022: Ballot paper vs voting machine row continues (November 3, 2022)

READ: Will AI turn the tide in midterm elections? (November 1, 2022)

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