According to NPR, state results are not final on election night; instead, organizations like The Associated Press — which NPR relies on for race calls — determine most winners well before local officials tabulate all votes.
But this year, NPR says it is expecting slower counts. This is because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Because of the virus, many states modified their voting rules, broadening access to mail-in voting and accelerating what had already been a rising mail-in voting trend.
And mailed-in ballots — with envelopes to open and signatures to check — simply take longer to tabulate than in-person votes, NPR stated.
However, some individual state rules play key roles too. Take two swing-state examples: Florida allows counties to process ballots well ahead of Election Day, while officials in Pennsylvania have to wait until the morning of Election Day to begin that work.
And with far more voters opting for mail-in or drop-off ballots this year, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf said: “We probably won’t know results on election night.”
NPR says meanwhile if there’s no election night winner, don’t panic.
According to NPR, restrictive rules on ballot processing are in place in Wisconsin and Michigan as well – states that could play a crucial role in deciding who wins the presidency.
In fact, NPR states, that slow-counting Pennsylvania is considered by forecasters as the most likely state to put Democratic nominee Joe Biden or President Donald Trump over the election-capturing 270-electoral-vote threshold.
In addition, NPR reports that in countless polls, Democratic voters said they were far more likely than Republicans to use mail-in ballots. Republican voters however prefer in-person voting – something NPR attributes in part to Trump’s claims of widespread fraud associated with mail-in ballots.
This, in turn, can mean that because of different state rules about counting mail ballots, a clear partisan divide over voting method means that states that release their mail-in votes first will likely appear favorable — at least initially — for the Democrat Biden, and states that count in-person ballots first will likely appear better for Trump, NPR explained.