In past elections, the American public knew who won late on election night. That may not be the case this year.
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on this year’s election are everywhere. The second presidential debate was canceled due to President Donald Trump contracting COVID-19, and more mail-in ballots are being cast than ever before. According to the Pew Research Center, in this year’s primary election, almost double the amount of mail-in ballots were used than in the 2018 general election.
Due to the increase in mail-in ballots, there’s a high chance voters won’t know the official results on election night. Even in previous years, there hasn’t been 100 percent certainty of the results that night. Most news outlets will say a certain state has been won based on projections and exit poll data.
According to NPR, mail-in ballots take more time and resources to process than in-person ballots. Things are also complicated by the fact that policies vary by state. Some states are able to begin processing ballots before election day, while others can’t.
Data analyst and Hawkfish CEO Josh Mendelsohn said in an Axios interview there may be a “red mirage” of a Trump win on election night. This is due to the different perceptions of the pandemic and mail-in voting across party lines. Trump has expressed doubt in the legitimacy of mail-in voting, making Trump supporters more likely to vote in person.
Mendelsohn said exit poll data may show a Trump win, and as mail-in ballots are counted, the results will shift in favor of Former Vice President Joe Biden. Due to this prediction, Democrats are concerned Trump will contest the results of the election. Biden’s campaign is trying to make legal preparations in case the results are disputed and sent to Congress or the Supreme Court, Democratic sources told CNN.
In the battleground state of Pennsylvania, mail-in ballots aren’t allowed to be processed until election day. Votes that arrive by mail three days after the election in that state will still be counted and they have to be postmarked no later than Election Day, meaning results may not be finalized for at least three days after the election.
Social media platforms like YouTube and Twitter are taking steps to curb the spread of misinformation between when the polls close and when the results are officially announced.
YouTube has said it will be promoting election-related content from what they deem to be credible sources, including Fox and CNN. Twitter is trying to make sure their users are informed by pinning voting information to the top of their timelines. They also recently added an extra step to retweeting to slow the speed of tweets going viral.
Even if results aren’t final, you can still tune in to election night on CNN, Fox, CBS and more.