This post has been updated.
This is the best election story you’ll ever read. OK, wow, bold statement from the author. It may very well be, but you, the reader, can’t determine its quality until you’ve read it—at least most of it. Reaching a conclusion is a process, and it’s why Election Day has drifted into the rearview as we count votes. This is not new.
Numerous presidential elections have not been settled after one day of glorious democracy. The very first one, which elevated George Washington to the highest office in the land, took nearly a month: voters weighed in from Dec. 15, 1788, to Jan. 10, 1789. More recently, the 2000 election went unresolved until mid-December, and this year, increased numbers of mail-in ballots due to the COVID-19 pandemic make it likely some states will be tallying votes for days.
Since polls closed, many people have been projecting winners and claiming victory, so you may be wondering where you can get trustworthy results for the states that remain up for grabs. We still recommend the nonprofit Associated Press for actual decisions on unresolved races, but for pure numbers, nothing’s better than the unofficial results published by the states themselves.
At this point, media organizations have projected winners across most of the country, but the race between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden continues in a handful of key swing states.
Before we get into the details, it’s important to note that “100% reporting” doesn’t necessarily mean all votes have been counted, and states differ in how they report ballots. In Wisconsin, for example, the Milwaukee County Election Commission explains on its website that this phrasing means all in-person ballots have been reported. Results aren’t actually complete until the county has received and counted all ballots, including mail-in ones.
Now for the states that are still working on tallying their votes:
Many votes cast by residents of The Last Frontier have yet to be counted, but you can see what has been tallied at the state election division’s website. The New York Times reports that current counts reflect only in-person ballots, and that other types will not be counted until about a week after Election Day.
The AP has called the Grand Canyon State for Biden, but the major television networks and the New York Times have held off. You can find its unofficial results here, on the secretary of state’s website.
The Peach State’s unofficial results are available on the secretary of state’s website, though the page notes it may not include all absentee or provisional ballots. A line at the top shows when tallies were last updated.
The Keystone State’s unofficial results are available at this link and the Department of State is posting updates on Twitter. You can also see the state’s progress counting ballots on a website it says will be updated every hour.
The Silver State is posting its unofficial vote counts on a dedicated website that refreshes automatically. It says tallies will be updated every morning at 9 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, but the New York Times has reported officials there won’t release more results until 12 p.m. Eastern on Thursday. You can also keep track of updates by following the state’s election division on Twitter.
Unofficial results from the Tar Heel State are available on the State Board of Elections’ website. To use it for the presidential election, select 11/03/2020 from the Election dropdown menu, State from the County menu, and Federal from the Office menu. Then hit Display Results. Or you can go right to this link. The state has said mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day will be accepted until Nov. 12.
The Associated Press
The AP, which has assessed US elections since 1848, declares winners only when its seasoned race callers can definitively say someone has won. Ultimately, its staff is trying to figure out if the trailing candidates in every contest can catch up. “Only when that answer is an unquestionable ‘no’ is the race ready to be called,” the AP says on its website.
You may have seen the news agency call races when polls close—those were likely blowouts. The designation “too close to call,” will occur when the margin between the top two candidates is razor-thin, but all votes except provisional and some valid absentee ballots have been counted. These may include late-arriving mail-in votes from members of the military or their families.
The AP won’t declare a winner if a race could result in a recount, though it may make a final decision if the trailing candidate publicly concedes or confirms they won’t challenge the result.
You can find the AP’s full coverage online at its election hub or its Twitter account. You’ll find every race call on the AP Politics Twitter account. If you want to find specific candidates, states, or offices within the onslaught of reports, put from:@ap_politics into the Twitter search bar, followed by whatever you want, such as “Donald Trump,” “Joe Biden,” “Texas,” or “U.S. Senate.” Then sort by Latest.
The organization also has an app for both iOS and Android, so you can keep track on your phone and use your free hand to shovel takeout into your mouth. Just go to Topics and tap Election 2020 to find the mobile election hub.
You can supplement the AP’s information by watching, reading, or listening to other media outlets, but many of them will be basing their assessments on what the AP is reporting.
OK, now, you can confirm that this is the best election story—oh, wait, there’s more.
Absentee ballots and delayed results
The ongoing pandemic has led to increased numbers of mail-in ballots across the nation, but they’re not new. Oregon, for example, became the first entirely vote-by-mail state in 2000. Postal voting in general dates back even further. During the Civil War, most Union states and six of the 11 Confederate states let their distant soldiers vote absentee.
Absentee ballots lingering in the mail were a major point during the drawn-out 2000 presidential election between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore, as Bush sued to force 13 Florida counties to count ballots from overseas military in the days after polls closed. The Sunshine State has again sent out a large number of military ballots and says that as long as they’re postmarked by Nov. 3 and arrive by Nov. 13, they’ll be counted.
That timeline isn’t unusual, as 35 states do not normally begin counting mail-in ballots until Election Day. Some states have changed their process due to COVID-19 to begin counting the influx of postal votes earlier, but others, including potential swing state Pennsylvania, still did not start until Nov. 3.
Even without considering mail-in votes, the nation hasn’t always known who its next president will be by the time most people go to bed on Election Day. In 1960, Republican Richard Nixon didn’t concede to Democrat John F. Kennedy—no relation—until the following afternoon. Republicans still challenged results in 11 states and kept the dispute going for months, but the only result was Nixon losing Hawaii to Kennedy.
And of course, there’s the oft-mentioned 2000 election, which didn’t conclude until the US Supreme Court ruled on Dec. 12 that it was time to stop counting votes and let the Electoral College do its job.
The electoral process and “faithless electors”
Ah yes, the Electoral College. Even though the AP or anyone else may declare a race over, nothing is official until results are certified and electors have their say.
When you cast your ballot, you’re actually voting for a slate of electors and not for whoever’s on your preferred presidential ticket. Once the results are in, all states and Washington, D.C., pick electors based on the popular vote. Generally, these people are selected for their loyalty to their party, so it’s rare that they veer from that path.
They haven’t been a threat to the people’s will, but “faithless electors” exist, and there were seven in 2016—five Democrats and two Republicans voted for someone other than their party’s candidate. Three other Democratic electors tried, but were unsuccessful. None flipped to the opposing major party, though. Overall, 33 states require electors to vote as their residents want them to.
They will do so on Dec. 14, and one copy of each elector’s ballot must be in the hands of the president of the US Senate (the vice president), by Dec. 23, though there is no penalty for missing this deadline, the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures says.
Three other copies go to the presiding judge in the district where the electors met, each elector’s secretary of state, and the National Archives and Records Administration. The one to the judge serves as a backup in case the one sent to the Senate goes missing or is destroyed. The electoral ballots will be counted during a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, officially selecting the president- and vice president-elect.
Alright, you’ve reached the end and can determine whether this is, indeed, the best election story of all time. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. Whatever you find, you tallied up all necessary information to reach that conclusion, and that’s what matters most.