On election night, journalists, pundits, politicians, and the public must have patience when contemplating election results. Conducting an election in a pandemic brings many changes, including a massive shift to absentee and early voting. Thanks to democracy reforms passed earlier this year, it’s easy, safe and secure for voters to participate by absentee voting—and hundreds of thousands are. This shift will make ballots coming in by mail, including some not postmarked until Election Day, vital to determining the election outcome in Virginia. Patience for complete results will be necessary, as the standard metrics of exit polling and precincts reporting will not be as useful or complete as they have been in the past.
“If it’s a close race you probably won’t have results until at least Friday,” Elections Commissioner Christopher E. Piper said in an interview. “Ballots will be coming in all the way through Friday. And then it’s going to take time to count those.”
A few things to keep in mind:
- We won’t have all the votes on election night.
Election night reporting data will not show a complete picture. The Virginia Department of Elections reports over three times more absentee ballots requested and cast than in the 2016 presidential election. Absentee ballots fall under the central absentee precinct and can arrive up to noon on Nov. 6 and still be counted. Many absentee ballots, including those from military or overseas civilian voters, and qualified provisional ballots will still be “out” on election night and could be critical for determining the election result should they arrive by the Friday noon cutoff.
Late-arriving absentee votes could impact the vote total and election results in close races, appearing like a drastic swing in vote totals. Polling shows that Biden supporters are much more likely to vote early than Trump supporters, inaccurately skewing results based on in-person voting toward the president.
- Be skeptical if candidates or parties declare victory before we count all the votes.
It will take longer to count all of the valid absentee votes and verify a winner in this year’s election—and that’s okay. The rigorous checks and balances that protect the fairness and accuracy of our elections can take time. Coronavirus is also going to impact counting all the votes and declaring a winner. Like many workplaces, election officials are careful to stay socially distanced and are sometimes working with reduced staff or fewer resources.
- Virginia’s (recent) history of close elections.
Virginia is no stranger to tight races. Just three years ago, the winner of the House District 94 race, and control of the House of Delegates, was determined by drawing a name out of a bowl. In 2013, Democratic candidate Mark Herring defeated Republican candidate Mark Obenshain by a .04% margin after recount. In the 2005 General Attorney race, we certified Bob McDonnell as the winner over Creigh Deeds by a mere 323 votes, but again, only after a recount.
Virginia has a history of close votes— ensuring every vote is counted and that races aren’t called until they are—is more important than prematurely and, potentially falsely, declaring a winner.
It may take a week to process every valid vote in Virginia this election. It is imperative to ensure the fairness and accuracy of the election this year before reporting results. The media, politicians, political parties, and the public must prepare to wait until every vote is counted and validated before declaring victory.
Election Protection, a national, nonpartisan coalition, provides comprehensive information and assistance at all stages of voting–from registration, to absentee and early voting, to casting a vote at the polls, to overcoming obstacles to their participation. Voters may call 1-866-OUR-VOTE if they encounter any problems exercising their right to vote.
For more information, visit www.voteva.us/.