We could know the results of the U.S. presidential election on the night of November 3.
Or we might not.
Americans are used to knowing who won by the end of election night. But this year is different. That’s mostly because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In past years, most people went to physical voting places called polls. Now, many want to stay away from long lines in crowded spaces. They are choosing to vote in different ways.
Counting those votes could lead to delays in announcing winners. That could be true for both local elections and the presidential election.
Six in 10 voters say they will vote in person either before or on Election Day.
One-third of the voters say they will vote by mail or by absentee ballot.
Absentee ballots are used by voters who are not able to go to a polling place before or during Election Day. Those voters might be sick or disabled. Or they might be away from home during the election. States have different rules. Some allow people to ask for an absentee ballot for any reason.
Some states offer mail-in ballots for all voters. Voters in nine states and Washington, D.C., will be mailed a ballot before the election. Those voters will fill out their ballots and mail them in. They can also drop ballots off at special boxes.
Voters seem to know they will need to wait for results. The poll showed only about 3 in 10 Americans expect to know who won the presidential election on November 3 itself.
For voting officials, the big issue is time. Many states allow them to process ballots ahead of Election Day as they come in. They can take ballots out of envelopes and check the signatures on them. Those votes can then be counted faster on Election Day.
But other states do not allow that. Officials must wait until Election Day. Those states include some that are important to the candidates, such as Pennsylvania.
It’s possible some results could come in days or even weeks later.
That is important to remember. The poll showed that more Republicans than Democrats plan to vote in person. That means many of the first votes coming in could be for a Republican candidate. But a Democratic candidate could finish strong at the end when all votes are counted.
We will have to be patient.
SOURCES: THE WASHINGTON POST, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
ELECTION COVERAGE: News for You Online will post extra stories the day after the election and when a winner is declared.