Popular Information 834 Days Later Popular Information is a newsletter about politics and power — written by Judd Legum and Tesnim Zekeria.
The first issue of Popular Information, published on July 23, 2018, was headlined “Ignore The Polls.” We argued that in 2016, “the focus on polls, which reinforced the belief that Hillary Clinton would win in a walk, may have decreased turnout among Clinton supporters.”
In our first edition, we also offered the following advice.
There are 834 days until Election Day 2020. My humble suggestion: Ignore the polls. Spend your time learning and talking to people about issues that are important to you. Then vote.
This advice still holds. If you haven’t voted, stop reading this newsletter and go directly to the polls. Then, ignore the exit polls, which are a particularly unreliable form of polling.
We all want to know the outcome of the election. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut. We have to wait for the votes to be counted. How long will it take before enough votes are counted that we know the winner? Anywhere from a few hours to a few months.
How and when votes are counted
None of the results announced on election night are ever final.
Instead, what is reported are “unofficial results” (i.e., partial counts and projections from newsrooms). In some states “unofficial results” on election night will reflect ballots that have been cast through in-person voting and have been counted so far. Absentee ballots are counted later. In other states, absentee ballots are counted ahead of Election Day and are included in their unofficial results.
Typically, it takes days for election officials to tabulate processed ballots. States are not expected to report final results on election night and, in fact, never have. This year, given the surge in mail-in voting due to the pandemic, it will take longer than usual to count all the ballots.
Following an election, results are certified through a process known as “The Canvass.” During the Canvass, election officials will 1) count eligible outstanding ballots and 2) correct reporting errors in the unofficial results. This is to ensure that every valid ballot cast is counted and included in the official tally. Every year, the Canvass identifies errors in the unofficial results. This is not an indication of a broken or “rigged” election.
This process takes place in every state and occurs by a deadline determined by the state. In some states, the process takes a few days. Other states take several weeks. In the event of a close election, we will not learn the winner until key states complete their Canvass — or later.
The potential legal battles ahead
If the results are close enough that the outcome of one or more decisive states is uncertain, the battle will continue in the courts. This isn’t speculation — Trump has said he plans to start filing more lawsuits as soon as the voting ends. “We’re going to go in the night of, as soon as that election is over, we’re going in with our lawyers,” Trump said on Sunday.
Ahem! The election is “over” when the very last ballot is counted. Trump is trying to disenfranchise voters who postmarked their ballot by Nov 3rd but was received a day or so later (for example). This is one more instance of a weakened bully kicking sand into the faces of the electorate.
Prior to the election, Republicans focused on challenging methods of voting, like drive-thru voting in Texas and various expansions of mail-in voting across the country. After election day, the focus will shift to invalidating individual ballots.
One form of challenge, telegraphed by Republicans, is seeking to invalidate ballots that arrive after election day. This could be a major issue in Pennsylvania, the state most likely to decide the outcome. Right now, ballots that arrive before November 6 will be accepted. But the Supreme Court may consider a challenge to late-arriving ballots after Election Day. This could also be an issue in Texas, Minnesota, and Iowa.
Another way Republicans may try to invalidate ballots is by challenging the validity of signatures on absentee ballots. In Nevada, Republicans filed a request for “every Clark County voter’s signature on their returned ballot and a copy of whatever signature on file that was used to check their signature.”
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