Will we know who won the presidency on election night? There are 7 core battleground states — here’s how they will handle the vote count

Will we know who won the presidency on election night? There are 7 core battleground states — here’s how they will handle the vote count
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It is clear that impeached president Donald Trump is attempting to undermine vote by mail for two major reasons: first of all, it makes it difficult-to-impossible to suppress the Democratic vote in dense urban areas, where Republicans have strategically starved precincts of voting machines in order to force long lines. So you could have voters standing in line for 6-8 hours in Cleveland or Milwaukee, while suburban white (formerly Republican) voters could vote in 15 minutes.

The second reason was to cast doubt on the validity of votes that can stream in even after Election Day, as long as they are properly postmarked. In fact, there’s been talk that the count of such ballots might not even begin on Election Day, giving Trump the election night victory, while mostly Democratic votes stream in afterward. Just look at California elections the last few cycles, where some races aren’t called for weeks. 

Indeed, it seems pretty obvious that Trump will try to sue to stop the counting of any ballot after Tuesday night—whether it’s been received by electoral authorities or not.

However, given the vote-counting rules of several key states, the odds of the latter scenario being a factor are low.


There are seven core battleground states. Here’s how they will handle the vote count.


Tallying can begin 14 days before Election Day, but results may not be released before all precincts are reporting or one hour after the closing of polls on Election Day. Releasing information earlier is a felony.

We gotta get Arizonans to vote early, because those votes can start getting counted two weeks before Election Day. Late votes will take time to tally, which may become a factor if the race is as tight as expected. In 2018, the Senate race wasn’t called until November 12, six days after the election.


Signature verification [and vote counting] can begin at 7 a.m. 22 days before Election Day. Releasing the results early is a felony.

Florida one-ups Arizona by beginning to count ballots three weeks before Election Day.


Signature verification conducted upon receipt. [Vote counting] 7 a.m. on Election Day.

Signature verification can be time consuming, so getting that done upon receipt should help speed up the vote count. But being unable to count votes until Election Day proper could delay final results.


[Signature verification and vote counting] On Election Day before the polls close at the jurisdiction’s discretion. Anyone with access to absentee ballot counting must sign an oath that information related to processing and tallying will not be communicated in any way until after the polls close.

An early start on Election Day, counting ballots before the polls close will help speed final results, but could still drag into the next few days. According to current polling, Michigan isn’t looking particularly close right now, so an election night call will hopefully be in the cards.

North Carolina

[Signature verification] The fifth Tuesday before Election Day. Counties using optical scan devices may remove ballots from their envelopes and place them in tabulators.

[Vote count] Two weeks prior to Election Day, provided the hour and place of counting is announced. Results shall not be announced before 7:30 p.m. on Election Day.

The fifth Tuesday before Election Day is … September 29! In two weeks!

Yup, North Carolina is already voting! As I write this, nearly 25,000 ballots have already been returned. Of those, roughly 57% are Democratic, 14% Republican. Yup, Trump is doing a fantastic job scaring his voters away from vote by mail, something even Republicans are worried about.


[Signature verification and vote counting] At 7am on Election Day, but the votes may not be recorded or published until after the polls close.

Being able to start counting early on Election Day is better than nothing, but this one, if it stays close, might drag for days. On the other hand, the polling gives Joe Biden the clear lead, so … maybe not.


[Signature verification and vote counting] After the polls open on Election Day.

Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin are pretty much the whole game. If Biden wins these three, the election is over. Yet all three don’t start counting until election morning, and given the unexpected unprecedented demand for voting, and in particular, vote by mail, there is no guarantee these states will have results Tuesday night. Or, worst-case scenario, Trump wins the day-of vote, leading on Tuesday night, while the heavily Democratic mail balloting gets counted in subsequent days. The conspiracy theories will fly hot and heavy, with Trump doing everything possible to sow chaos.

During the Supreme Court election a few months ago, Wisconsin didn’t even release any results for a week, giving plenty of time for ballots to come in and be counted in one fell swoop. It was actually a great system, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have everyone follow that rule, but it was a one-time deal.

On the other hand, Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina will be counting ballots weeks before Election Day. Odds are good we’ll know their final tally, save for whatever ballots stream in late, on Tuesday night. If Biden wins Florida or North Carolina, we probably won’t even need to wait on the Big Three to celebrate Biden’s victory. Hard to see a universe in which Biden wins North Carolina or Florida and loses every other battleground state.

Odds are good we’ll either know, or be fairly certain, of who wins the race on election night. The quicker we have results, the less chance for Trump to create problems if he’s lagging the vote.

This does mean that getting our people to vote and vote early will be critical. The well-documented issues with the United States Postal Service may actually help in that regard. No procrastinating this year, please.


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