In an unprecedented year, it’s only natural that we have an unprecedented election. It’s the first in our lifetimes to occur during a global pandemic, and one in which an unprecedented number of votes are being cast after being mailed to voters. While we’re used to watching the results roll in on live TV on election night, this time it may take some time beyond election night to call the winner.
And that’s OK. Accessibility and accuracy are far more important during a close election than immediate results.
This year, nearly a million mail-in ballots have already been received by election officials from Texans voting by mail in this election, shattering past records for vote-by-mail in the state. Although Texas is not one of the many states that let any voter opt to vote by mail for any reason, the Texas Supreme Court held earlier this year that a voter could take the pandemic into consideration along with their own medical history to determine if they had a medical reason to request a mail-in ballot. As a result, many Texans are casting a mail-in ballot for the first time in this election.
Even before the pandemic, voting by mail was becoming more common nationwide, but it’s more popular than ever this year because it provides a safe, secure, and convenient way for many voters to cast a ballot. All eligible voters should have this option, regardless of whether there’s a pandemic.
But more mail-in ballots means more time spent counting, because these ballots take longer to process. Although Texas elections officials are allowed to start processing early votes sooner than in some states, you combine the unprecedented number of ballots cast with recent polls showing a close race in Texas, and this means Texas may be one of the states where the winner isn’t known on election night.
This isn’t a reason to be disappointed: A lag in results is not only expected, it’s a good sign that the process is working as it’s supposed to. Each and every vote counts.
That’s not to say that pundits or even candidates themselves won’t try to preemptively declare victory. But just because someone says they are the winner doesn’t make it true. Remember: voters, not candidates or pundits, decide the winner.
Announcing a winner too soon is not just likely to be inaccurate, it’s dangerous. Conflicting reports of election results undermine election integrity and chip away at voters’ trust in the process. It’s important that we all wait for every vote to be counted, as patience is a democratic virtue.
There are good reasons for why the increase in mail-in ballots may slow election results. It takes more time to process mail-in ballots for mundane reasons such as taking the ballots out of envelopes, to applying security protocols to verify each mail-in ballot, just as ballots cast in-person are also subject to verification. Ensuring security and accuracy takes more time.
We may also see delays at the polls, which will have their own pandemic-related adjustments to keep voters and poll workers safe. Texas has already surpassed the state’s last presidential election’s total turnout before early voting even ends, with millions more expected to vote on Election Day. Taking necessary safety precautions and counting every vote, however, may mean delays in official results.
While some delays are inevitable, there are ways we can help the process run more smoothly. All voters, whether they choose to vote in person or by mail, should make a plan ahead of time. We, the people of Texas, have the power, because when Texans vote, democracy wins.
The goal of any democratic election is to represent the will of the people, and to achieve that goal, we must count every single vote. Let’s prepare to be patient while we make sure that happens.