How Quickly Will Your Absentee Vote Be Counted? A State-by-State Timeline
A lot of voters are asking these questions right now: How quickly will ballots be counted in the presidential election? Which states will have results — and possibly a winner — on election night?
In a year when absentee ballots are surging, a lot depends on when officials first start what’s called pre-processing of ballots. This ranges from verifying signatures, opening envelopes and flattening ballots to get them ready for tabulation.
Click to View Post Navigation
When mail and absentee ballots are pre-processed
Before Election Day
On Election Day
Key presidential battleground
Some states begin this work weeks in advance and others are only allowed to begin on Election Day. States that begin early may have a lot more results counted by election night.
Because of the surge in mail ballots that need to be counted, if the presidential race is close, the winner may not be known on election night. More than 80.5 million absentee ballots have already been requested or sent to voters nationwide.
Presidential battleground states
Currently, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — two critical swing states — do not begin pre-processing ballots until Election Day, meaning they may take longer to have results.
Michigan, another important state, begins pre-processing just 10 hours before Election Day. Florida, by contrast, allows ballots to begin to be pre-processed 40 days before Election Day.
For much of the year, election officials around the country advocated for a policy change that could help speed up the count: allowing more widespread processing of submitted absentee ballots before Election Day.
Complicating things is that some states accept ballots after Election Day, provided they were postmarked by Election Day. Still, any head start in vote counting would help states report results sooner.
Two battleground states that give election officials a lot of time to process ballots before Election Day are Florida and Arizona, which means they are likely to have a lot of results on election night.
If Joseph R. Biden Jr. wins either state, it’s a good sign that he might win the presidency. Donald J. Trump won both in 2016 and all but certainly needs to hold them again. Neither state allows ballots received after Election Day to count, which theoretically would limit lengthy counting delays.
Michigan election officials have said that they anticipate having the bulk of their results tabulated by the Friday after Election Day. Wisconsin election officials are confident they will have most of their counting done by the day after Election Day, in part because of the state’s curing law, which allows voters a chance to fix some errors in advance.
While ballots in Wisconsin are not allowed to be opened or processed before 7 a.m. on Election Day, county clerks can inspect the outside of an absentee ballot to see if a signature, witness signature or witness address is missing. If so, they have the option to contact the voter and allow them the opportunity to fix the errors.
So while inspectors in Wisconsin on Election Day still must check for the signatures and witness address, they begin with the confidence knowing most have already been checked and addressed by clerks.
North Carolina and Georgia (red states in 2016) could have early results too, but there have been voting problems in those states in some recent elections. North Carolina elections officials still expect to have a vast majority of results by election night.
Ohio (a red state in 2016) and Minnesota (a blue state) are also likely to have results early, though both states have provisions to accept ballots after Election Day provided they were postmarked by Nov. 3, and a late surge could delay complete results. Ohio election officials said that results and counting will most likely roll into the Wednesday after Election Day.
States with critical Senate races
The battle for control of the Senate is also a huge story on Election Day, and it is possible that those results may be known quicker than those of the presidential election.
That’s because pivotal Senate races are in states like Colorado, which has been a vote-by-mail state for years, and Montana, which begins processing nearly a month out. Kentucky — where a lot of Democratic money has poured into the effort to unseat Senator Mitch McConnell — gives election officials a large runway to start pre-processing. These states are likely to have nearly complete results on election night.
States that are solidly or likely Republican or Democratic will most likely be called as soon as polls close or soon after, regardless of a massive pile up of absentee ballots.
Many of these states, however, will probably feature competitive House races.
It took more than six weeks after a June 23 primary for two congressional races to be decided in New York. There, election officials in New York City buckled under immense demand for mail ballots and a process that does not allow for counting absentee ballots before the in-person election is over.
If the primary in New York is any indication of how its general election could go, those few competitive House races could take weeks to decide.