05 November 2020 00:33
Due to increased postal voting some states will not consider counting of the presidential ballots complete until Friday When will we know the US election result? Donald Trump's false claim to have already won the US presidential election while millions of votes remain to be counted has focused the spotlight once more on one of the big uncertainties of the 2020 race: when will we know the result? It could take days, weeks or even months, depending on what happens. What usually happens? US presidential elections are not won by the national popular vote.
The winner in each state collects its electoral college votes – and needs a total of 270 to take the White House. US election 2020 live results: Donald Trump takes on Joe Biden in tight presidential race Read more In most elections the result is clear – although not officially confirmed – by the end of the night. Major American media outlets "call" each state for one of the candidates. While not based on the final vote count, that projection is almost invariably accurate. This means an accurate tally of electoral college votes can be made and a winner declared. In 2016, that happened at 2.30am in Washington when Trump reached the required 270. Why is that not happening this time? Mainly because of the Covid-19 pandemic, large numbers of voters – about 68% of the total, compared with 34% in 2016 – cast their ballots early, including by post. Counting postal votes is slower because voter and witness signatures and addresses must be checked, and ballots smoothed out before being fed into counting machines. Some states start that verification process long before election day, meaning the count itself can get under way as soon as polls close. Others, however, do not allow that. Which states are we talking about? The states that could decide this year's race. Six have yet to be called: Nevada, Michigan, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. (One more, Arizona, has been called for the Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, though the Trump campaign claims ballots still to be counted will reverse that.) Millions of postal votes still remain to be counted in these undecided states, several of which could not begin processing them until election day, and crucially, in most of them Democratic voters are far more likely to have voted by mail than Republicans. In Wisconsin, which is expected to finish its count later on Wednesday, Biden leads by barely 20,000 votes but few precincts remain and most analysts expect the state to go the challenger's way. The Trump campaign has said it will immediately demand a recount. Pennsylvania officials have already said their count may not be finished by the end of Wednesday. Although Trump has an 11-point lead here, most of the remaining vote is postal ballots – which Biden has so far won by a margin of three to one in the state. The Democratic challenger is narrowly ahead in Nevada, with only Democratic-leaning late postal ballots left to tally. Officials have said no more results will be released in Nevada until midday on Thursday. Electoral college explained: how Biden faces an uphill battle in the US election Read more In Michigan, likewise, Biden is ahead, with most of the remaining votes expected to go his way and the outcome likely to be called by the end of Wednesday, while in Georgia, Trump has a two-point lead – but with a lot of probable Democratic votes, especially around Atlanta, still to be counted. There could yet be a late surprise in Arizona, which expects to have finished its count by the end of Wednesday, but the president is currently trailing by a full five points and will need the remaining ballots to be pro-Republican. And in North Carolina, while Trump is the clear favourite, the state accepts postal ballots until 12 November – although that is expected to make little difference. What else is complicating matters? Roughly half of all states will accept postal votes that arrive after election day as long as they carry a postmark of no later than 3 November, so postal delays may mean some ballots are not processed until days later: Pennsylvania has said results will not be considered complete until the deadline of Friday. There has also reportedly been an increase in the number of provisional ballots cast by people who asked for a postal vote but then decided to go to the polling station in person instead. These need careful checking to make sure no one has voted twice. Play Video Faith v fraud: Biden and Trump react during the US election count – video The really big unknown: a disputed result In the 2000 race, the Democratic candidate, Al Gore, famously lost Florida by just more than 500 votes out of a total of nearly 6m, costing him the election. After a disputed recount and a supreme court ruling, George W Bush was declared the winner. More than 300 lawsuits have already been filed over alleged breached of electoral law in the 2020 election, according to reports, and more can be expected over accusations of postal voting irregularities and changes to voting rules due to the pandemic. Recounts have to be a strong possibility in one or more of the key swing states, and Trump said in his first post-election address late on Tuesday that he would be going to the supreme court in an attempt to stop ballot counting. While it is far from clear how feasible such a move would be, anything like it could delay a final vote for weeks.