When Will We Know Who Won The 2020 Election: How Long The Results Could Take

The 2020 presidential election is in full-swing as Americans across the country head to the ballot box, while others, who have already voted, anxiously await the results. But the unprecedented shift to a vote-by-mail system amid the coronavirus pandemic means the procedure this year is far from normal. As reported by The New York Times, many regions will not count mail-in ballots on election night, while others have extended their window for accepting such ballots, further complicating matters. Add the possibility of legal battles in the weeks following the electoral process, and the timeline for the final results varies.

Extensions In North Carolina & Pennsylvania Could Delay Results

A employee at the Utah County Election office puts mail in ballots into a container to register the vote in the midterm elections on November 6, 2018 in Provo, Utah.
Getty Images | George Frey

In a move that was opposed by Republicans and applauded by Democrats, the Supreme Court issued two rulings last week that allowed Pennsylvania and North Carolina to accept absentee ballots after Election Day. Per The New York Times, the rulings in the battleground states are just two examples of how the coronavirus pandemic has affected the timeline of the election and could delay the outcome.

In the North Carolina case, the court supported lower rulings that extended the deadline for such ballots to nine days after November 3 — an increase of the three-day standard in the state legislature.

The Pennsylvania case was less cut and dried. The decision refused a Republican-led plea to decide before November 3 whether election officials could receive absentee votes for the standard three-day period after Election Day. Notably, Justice Samuel Alito left open the possibility of further lawful action on the issue.

"I reluctantly conclude that there is simply not enough time at this late date to decide the question before the election," he wrote.

Many States Did Not Have Elaborate Systems In Place For Voting By Mail

An Oregon voter casts a ballot from his home November 1, 2004 in Wilsonville, Oregon.
Getty Images | Craig Mitchelldyer

Although mail-in and absentee ballots are part of every election, the 2020 general election will see officials dealing with a record number of such votes. According to Voice of America, more than half of American voters are casting their ballots early or by mail this year. Unfortunately, this surge is accompanied by a lack of preparation in many regions.

Per FiveThirtyEight, several regions already experienced chaos in their primary elections, and few were prepared for the switch to a primarily vote-by-mail system. Notably, only five regularly use this process as their default voting system: Hawaii, Utah, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado.

Others started with far less vote-by-mail infrastructure to work with.

"A full 29 states (plus D.C.) sent ballots to fewer than 10 percent of their registered voters in 2018," the publication noted.

Legal Challenges Are Expected

A man walks up the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court on January 31, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Getty Images | Mark Wilson

Each year, hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots are nullified by election officials for various reasons, such as signature issues. As noted by Voice of America, ballots discarded for such problems could become the center of months-long legal battles that appear on track to become partisan clashes.

"With more Democrats than Republicans voting by mail, Republicans have sought court intervention, with varying degrees of success, to prevent late-arriving ballots from being entered into the final tally."
Although less than 1 percent of absentee votes per year get rejected due to administrative errors, the high volume of voters using the process in 2020 could complicate matters and fuel constitutional clashes. As The Inquisitr reported, both the Republican and Democratic parties have been preparing for the possibility of a contested referendum.