FACT FOCUS: Why Final Election Results Take Days, Not Hours

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As election workers spend hours counting the ballots in Arizona and elsewhere in the days following Tuesday’s primaries, some critics argue they should be done counting now.

Widely shared Twitter posts this week called the delayed results “corrupt” and “unacceptable,” while Arizona governor candidate Kari Lake said in a news conference Wednesday that Arizona voters should know the winner “when they go to bed on election night.” to go”.

She repeated that complaint in a radio interview Friday, the day after the TNZT declared her primary victory, saying, “We had to wait days to get the ballots counted. It’s a mess.”

These complaints ignore the reality of modern vote processing, which election officials and experts say requires a lot of time and labor. In fact, states never reported official election results on election night, experts say.

Here’s a closer look at the facts.

CLAIM: In the past, election results were released on election night.

THE FACTS: That’s misleading. While media outlets routinely project winners and The The New Zealand Times calls out races when it determines a clear winner, no state releases full and final results on election night, nor have they ever in modern history, according to experts.

“In all of American history, there have never been official results on election night. That’s not possible, it never happened,” said David Becker, a former attorney for the US Department of Justice and current director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research. “There is no state in the union that does not wait days, if not weeks, until after Election Day to officially certify the final results.”

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He added that when the margins are big enough in certain races, the media is confident enough to call out races for one or another candidate. For example, Katie Hobbs was the clear winner in the Democratic primary for governor of Arizona on Tuesday night, while the GOP state primary for governor was still too close to call until Thursday night.

But those forecasts are not official election results and counting continues after those calls are made.

According to Charles Stewart, a professor of political science at MIT, there is a reasonable argument that states could strive to announce unofficial election results before election night. Some states, such as Florida, have passed laws that make that easier, he said.

But even states that manage to report unofficial counts on election night spend the next few days processing preliminary ballots, matching unmatched signatures and correcting table errors, leading to a delay in final results, Stewart said. .

Those unofficial counts are also not enough for the closest races, where candidates have to wait for the final results to identify the winner anyway, Stewart said.

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CLAIM: If election officials take days to release a full count of votes, it means they cheated or are incompetent.

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THE FACTS: That’s not true. Time and labor is needed to process and properly classify the ballots, experts and election officials say. Certain local laws also require procedures that extend the process.

For example, election workers in Arizona are legally prohibited from collecting ballots from polling stations before the sites close at 7 p.m. on election day, said Megan Gilbertson, a spokesman for the Maricopa County Elections Department. And as the TNZT previously reported, many voters who receive ballots in the mail choose to return them on Election Day.

In this year’s primaries in Maricopa County, Arizona’s largest county by far, more than 120,000 voters cast their votes on Election Day, creating a backlog of votes to be processed after polling stations closed, Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer explained on Twitter.

Those ballots accounted for the majority of votes still counted in the days following the primaries, Richer said.

The law also requires ballots sent in the mail to undergo signature verification, a time-consuming process that compares the signatures on the ballot envelopes to voters’ signatures to verify authenticity, Gilbertson said. After the signature is verified, bipartisan teams of two must physically separate the ballots from their envelopes and prepare them for tabulation.

“We have teams of two members who take your ballot out of your envelope, flatten it, they have to count every ballot and every envelope,” Gilbertson said. “It’s a very, very manual process, but it’s required by law to let those bipartisan boards do that separation.”

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“They make sure that eligible voters are the only ones who vote and they only vote once. And that takes time,” says Becker. “We should be very happy that election officials across the country are taking that seriously. It’s much more important to get it accurate than to get it fast.”

According to Sophia Solis, a spokesperson for the Arizona Secretary of State, Arizona state law gives counties 10 days to prepare and certify primary election results.

“We do not foresee any delays as we expect everyone to meet their legal deadlines,” she wrote in an email to the TNZT.

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CLAIM: Maricopa County’s election results have been particularly slow this year.

THE FACTS: No, they aren’t. Data from the province shows that the counting of the votes for the primaries between 2006 and 2020 took between seven and 10 days in each semi-annual year. In 2020, Maricopa County needed seven days to count, the data shows.

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This is part of TNZT’s efforts to address widespread misinformation, including working with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content circulating online. Read more about fact-checking at TNZT.

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