Why does the counting of ballots in the United States take so long?

Why does the counting of ballots in the United States take so long?
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The balance of power in the US Congress after Tuesday’s midterm elections is still uncertain, with several key races yet to be called some 48 hours after many polls closed.

A cliffhanger-style, multi-day wait for results is far from unusual in the United States, where it is usually the media that usually calls the first elections, based on votes tabulated by county clerks and others. officials as well as statistical analysis.

While the long delays may infuriate American voters — and raise questions from curious international observers — there are several reasons why the process may drag out.

patchwork of rules

For starters, US elections are largely decentralized and each of the 50 states has its own rules.

Some Americans vote by machine; others, by paper ballot. Some vote in person; others, by mail.

Some vote on election day. Others vote in advance. Many citizens take advantage of the ballot box.

As election officials in several states urged patience with vote counting, Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida aired his complaints.

“If #Florida can count 7.5 million ballots in 5 hours, how can it take days for some states to count less than 2 million?” Rubio tweeted on Wednesday.

Ballots, on which Americans typically vote for a variety of candidates and initiatives, can take a while to match.

With mail-in voting widely popularized during the COVID-19 pandemic, things are taking even longer – ballots can arrive at counting stations several days after the election. Ohio and Alaska count those arriving up to 10 days later.

To make matters worse, in many states election officials aren’t even allowed to start counting mail-in votes ahead of time.

The protracted time needed to complete the process is fueling conspiracy theories, especially after the 2020 election, which President Donald Trump has falsely claimed was rigged against him.

This race between Trump and eventual winner Joe Biden was not known for four days.

Georgia bites its nails

The southeast state of Georgia played a special role in 2020, as the balance of the US Senate hinged on a runoff election in the state.

This year is proving to be a case of deja vu.

With no candidate crossing the 50% threshold on Tuesday to prevent a runoff, the two leading candidates, incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker are heading to a runoff on Dec. 6.

Organizing elections in a country of some 333 million people is itself a logistical challenge.

The process rarely goes without a few hiccups. This year, for example, an Arizona county’s election machines malfunctioned, disrupting voting.

Some Republicans — including Trump himself — pointed to it as evidence of fraud, an allegation immediately dismissed by authorities.

Even without a technical incident, the races can simply be extremely close, as many of Tuesday’s elections turn out to be.

Twenty states have laws mandating a recount if the margin between candidates is too narrow.

In a remarkable case in 2000, the country held its breath for 36 days, with the entire election hinged on the delayed results of one state, Florida, as Texas Governor George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore were vying for the White House.

At the heart of the civic imbroglio was an extremely thin vote that prompted a hotly contested manual recount. Ultimately, the battle worked its way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of Bush in December.


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