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Polling fever in America: What to expect, come election night in the US

US election results usually trickle in on election night, followed by a concession speech from the losing candidate in the early hours of the morning. But this year, with record numbers of Americans voting by mail due to concerns over COVID-19, ballots will take longer to tally, dragging election night into a days, or even weeks-long process after November 3.

Polling fever in America: What to expect, come election night in the US
The US could see once-in-a-century voter turnout this year


Add to this doubts some Republicans have cast on the credibility of voting by mail and President Donald Trump’s repeated refusals to commit to accepting the results of the election — including during the most recent presidential debate — and the aftermath of the election could be chaotic. Here’s what you should know about the ways the 2020 election could play out.

Mail-in voting slows the process

Due to the coronavirus, 81.7 million absentee ballots have been requested or sent to voters for the general election. In Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Utah and Hawaii, this should not be an issue, as voters and election officials are used to dealing with mail-in voting. Other states that have made voting by mail easier for citizens since March could take a day or more to count ballots, especially those that can’t open mailed ballots until election day, including the battleground states of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

During the primaries that occurred after March 17, a Washington Post analysis found it took states an average of 4 days to report nearly complete results. “One thing I would say about this country’s election managers, the administrators, is that they are a very, very dedicated lot,” said Edie Goldenberg, a professor of public policy and political science at the University of Michigan. “They’ve worked very hard to prepare for this election. So, I think that the difficulties that we certainly saw in a number of primaries, many of those have been addressed.”

In November’s general election, states will be processing many more ballots than in the primaries. Some states, including crucial swing states like Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Michigan have extended their deadlines to accept ballots postmarked by election day until mid-November in some states. Even for states that do require ballots be received by election day, it could take a week to count them all if the race is close, as was the case in Arizona in 2018. “It’s a little hard to know what to predict,” Goldenberg told DW. “Some states are going to be in a very good position to know where they stand with regard to the vote, even on election night. But lots of them aren’t.”

Casting doubts on casting ballots

In the run-up to the 2020 election, President Trump and other Republicans have questioned the credibility of mail-in voting, despite cases of fraud with mail-in voting being very rare — as is voting fraud in general — according to an analysis. The president himself votes by mail, including in the most recent midterm elections and the Florida primary this year.

The president is “concerned about particular states that automatically mail out ballots to every registered voter,” Acting Deputy Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli told DW’s Conflict Zone. Voting by mail has not previously favoured one party over the other. In fact, Republicans used to be slightly more likely to vote absentee according to Goldenberg. However, due to recent messaging, Republican voters are now half as likely to request mail ballots as Democrats. Among Americans planning to vote, 6 in 10 want to do so in person (80% of Republicans and 40% of Democrats), while the other 4 in 10 will cast their ballots by mail, according to the Brookings Institution.

— This article has been provided by Deutsche Welle

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