How Mail-in Votes Could Delay US Presidential Election Results

The postal department is expected to be stretched since there is a sharp increase in the number of mail-in votes. 

2 min read
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Result of the election in the United States is usually known on the night of election day. This year, however, due to the increase in mail-in voting triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, the results in many states are expected to be delayed since counting postal votes can take more time.

According to a BBC report, because of this unprecedented surge in postal votes, a candidate who takes an early lead may end up being overtaken as postal votes are tallied.


What are Mail-in Votes?

There are three basic ways to vote in the US: In person on election day, in person and early, and via a mail-in ballot.

People who are old, or have serious medical conditions or those who are away from their state, are allowed to cast their votes through the postal service. Postal votes take longer to count than a normal ballot because each vote must have a signature which has to be matched with the voter registration card.

In 2016, the final vote total took more than a month to count.

Also, different states have different rules over how and when they count them. To give an example, states like Florida will begin counting postal votes before election day, however, most other states won’t start counting them until the polling is done.


Can Postal Service Handle the Volume of Mail-in Votes?

In the 2016 US presidential election, nearly one-quarter of votes were cast by post. This year, an estimated 8 crore postal ballots are expected to be cast, which is almost twice as much as in 2016, reported the BBC.

The report further added that the US Postal Service is facing a budget cut and there are is concerns if the postal service will be able to cope with the volume of ballots this year and deliver them in time.

While some states like California will accept votes as long as they are sent by the day of the election, even if they arrive weeks later, most states will only count postal ballots received by the time polls close on election day.


How Will This Delay the Results?

According to The New York Times, even after the early and in-person ballots are counted, a significant number of votes could still be outstanding. Only eight states expect to have at least 98 percent of unofficial results reported by noon the day after the election.

Thus, based on the order the votes being counted, the leads could vary. NYT reports that Democrats are more likely to vote by mail this year. So, states which counts in-mail first, like Arizona, Florida and North Carolina, could favour of Biden initially. Places that report in-person election day votes first, like most parts of Virginia, will probably look better for President Trump.


Will the Results be Known on the Same Day?

If due to the delays, there are no clear winners on 3 November, there will be a long wait, which could extend up to weeks, for a clear picture to emerge. Apart from the delay in the counting of mail-in votes, there could be legal disputes which will add to the uncertainty and could mean the courts play a part.

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