In-depth: why 2020 general election results may take a while

Sep 16, 2020, 1:16 PM
US Postal Service 2020 general election results...
File photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images 13 Sep 20

SALT LAKE CITY — Mark the 2020 general election — and specifically, its results — as just one more thing that might be delayed by the pandemic. With all the mail-in ballots expected around the country, it could take longer to know the results.

We are used to the national networks now calling the results on election night. But it’s only a fairly recent practice. And this year, we may have to be more patient, experts say. 

Absentee ballots could delay results

“This is probably going to take a little bit longer to do the counting because of the increase in absentee ballots,” said Chris Krebs, the head of cybersecurity and infrastructure protection for the US Department of Homeland Security, on a conference call with reporters.

But he promises this will be the most secure election in American history.

“Democracy wasn’t made overnight so we’re going to have to wait a little bit longer for this one,” said Krebs.

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Utah’s experience could help other states

Utah’s Director of Elections, Justin Lee, says Utah has learned lessons from doing vote-by-mail for a while now.

“One of the big lessons we‘ve learned is the results take a little bit longer,” he said. “We get a big dump at 8 p.m. on election night, but depending on how many people vote on election day, it could leave some races outstanding.”

We think of it as a national election, but the work is all done at the county level. And those county clerks and the state elections office are now releasing more results daily, instead of waiting two weeks for the canvas.

“We are putting out results every day, so we get as much information to the voter as fast as we can, while still doing the security checks and making sure the ballots are valid,” said Lee.

General election voters may also delay counts in 2020

Lee says about a third of voters return their mail-in ballots fairly quickly. Others take longer. And experts believe results will take longer for elections from here on out.

But Ellen Weintraub at the Federal Election Commission told ABC News we can trust the system is secure.

“This is the election work of the administrators and workers making sure every vote counts and that’s what we want,” she said.

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In-depth: why 2020 general election results may take a while