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Why do we wait so long for election results?

Despite advances in technology, counting and verifying votes takes time

November 6, 2018
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

With electronic ballot boxes and advances in technology, why does it seem to take so long for official election results to come out? Officials at the FEC say part of the wait comes from the time it takes for all the polls to close, and for precinct officials to deliver the ballots in the many methods that vary from state to state, and even county to county. Then states use a variety of methods to count votes, some slower than others. Many districts call in vote tabulations by telephone, while others have processes with as much pageantry as that of Los Angeles County in California, where a helicopter escorted by sheriff's deputies touches down in a public library parking lot where the deputies carry the ballots across the street to the county clerk's headquarters where they are tabulated.

While Iowa's election polls opened at 7 a.m. and will be open until 9 p.m. tonight, other states have polls open as late as midnight, eastern standard time. Voters in line at closing time are allowed to cast a ballot after closing time; this is a factor in the delay of counting ballots.

Then the poll workers, many of whom have been busy since early morning, start the process of shutting down voting machines and downloading and/or printing the results. Poll workers verify that the number of ballots cast matches the number of people signed in at the precinct. If the numbers don't match, they start the process of manually reconciling the ballots and the sign-ins. Poll workers are required to find the discrepancy and get it exactly right.

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Then, they deliver the results - by modem (not through a wireless connection) or phone or by hand.

If a precinct is in a rural area, often it takes some time for the results to be delivered to the headquarters in person.

Not every state posts results on the secretary of state website on election night. Journalists are often the first ones to bring the results. The Associated Press has reporters stationed at county election board locations or they call county boards for results, which they then report to other news outlets.

Most news organizations give projected or expected results during the night. When the AP or other news organizations officially call a race, they're relying on a combination of vote counts and that raw intelligence to make the judgment.

It can take days to count overseas ballots, which must be postmarked by election day, and provisional ballots, which are provided in case someone shows up to vote and their name is not on the rolls.

The certification of results can take weeks, as well, and has in the past changed the results of some narrow-margined elections.

If you think about elections at the local level, the US doesn't have one election or even 50, but really 8,000 different voter sets with any number of hazards, issues, and problems that could arise.

In recent years, concerns about the security of elections has made the protocol more complex for poll workers and state staff members. More flexibility in provisional ballots and absentee ballots has also slowed the system. The upshot of more options and flexibility for voting is that more Americans are eligible and able to vote.

While tonight will present a sense of finality in most of the elections, delays in certain areas or races might cause a less satisfying end result.

Stay with the Estherville News for continuing election coverage through today and tonight.



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