Get Ready: Election Night 2020 Won’t Decide Anything

4 mins read

We all want this current nightmare to be over, and we’re all looking at Election Night on November 3rd to be the day we learn whether or not we successfully kicked Trump out of office.

Get ready to be disappointed.

Rather, start readying yourself (and your friends) for the reality that we simply won’t know who has won the White House, or many other races, that night. Why? Because there will be far too many mail-in ballots that haven’t been counted yet.

We are accustomed to hearing the initial results from states the minute their polls close. Often, within an hour or two of that, we know all but the closest races. That just won’t happen this year. Take California in 2018, for example. A majority of their voters used mail-in ballots and it took California a week (and sometimes longer) to get all of the ballots received and counted.

This year, every single state will have an increase in mailed ballots, and some will have a massive increase. Adding to the confusion on Election Night, some states require that absentee ballots are RECEIVED by Election Night, while others allow ballots to be POSTMARKED by Election Night and can be received up to several days later. (By the way, make sure you know what your state requires.)

So first and foremost, I think we all have a responsibility to start flooding social media with this message: We won’t know who has won on Election Night, and will have to wait up to a week to know for sure.

Second, both Brennan Center and PolitiFact published essays on what the media could do to communicate factual and helpful information in this unusual year. (You can read those essays HERE and HERE.) They both made one similar recommendation that I think is a good idea, not just for this year, but forever:

They should stop saying that 100% of the precincts are reporting. This only ever means that we’ve received some results from every precinct. But it doesn’t mean that 100% of the ballots have been counted. Instead, media outlets should extrapolate roughly how many ballots were cast between in-person and absentee methods (which they are sophisticated enough to do). Using this number, they could report on whatever returns they DO have and also inform the audience what percentage of ballots from that state/district are yet uncounted.

This would go a long way to circumventing conspiracy theories. The results we get on Election Night will only be part of the story. Media outlets, and all of us who share information on Election Night, need to be mindful that we only have part of the picture. That picture could change drastically as ballots roll in over the following week.

Alternatively, we could make this election a landslide. In which case, we might know the result on Election Night…

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