As of Tuesday, Nov. 3, the results of the election are still unclear. Many states won’t have a complete count of the votes for at least a day or two. This is shown clearly in Pennsylvania, where the votes are estimated to be counted by Friday. Another cause of delayed results is the varying policies from state to state regarding ballot processing and counting. Some states begin counting when the ballots start arriving, while others don’t start counting until Election Day.
There are also a variety of rules around pre-processing ballots, which is when mail-in and absentee ballots get their signatures verified, flattened out, and prepared for counting. According to the New York Times, “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 by election night.” The states that are not allowed to begin counting until Election Day will have their results out later than other states, so nothing can be known for sure until these states have finished counting. At the time of writing, there is not yet a concrete estimate.
The United States Postal Service (USPS) was ordered by a federal judge to do a sweep of processing facilities in 12 postal districts across 15 states, but the order was disregarded. They had been sued by the NAACP for reasons including hindrance of timely mail distribution. The USPS had previously reported 300,000 or more untraceable ballots. According to Politico, the judge wrote that the USPS “… shall send Postal Service inspectors or their designees, to processing facilities in the following districts and direct them to sweep the facilities between 12:30 pm EST and 3:30 pm EST to ensure that no ballots have been held up and that any identified ballots are immediately sent out for delivery.” The New York Times says that the USPS should have the sweeps done by the end of Election Day “… rather than risk being held in contempt of court.”
This Election Day certainly hasn’t been a normal one with all the delays, but it has also had one of the largest voter turnouts in recent years. The large increase of mail in and absentee ballots may cause extra time needed to count the ballots, but the results shouldn’t take that much longer than in normal election years.