In recent years, however, counting time has become a growing source of unrest for Americans. One reason is simply impatience: for the past few decades we’ve expected most races to be called on election night, and those that aren’t called to not affect the balance of power. in Washington.
Then there’s the reason that came to the fore in 2020. President Donald Trump, echoing an argument made by Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) in 2018, suggested that counting mail-in ballots over the hours and days after the election allowed fraud – something neither Scott nor Trump could ever show had happened. But that idea has become something of a mantra on the right, largely because those votes come largely from Democratic voters and, therefore, offer a ripe target to be portrayed as nefarious and illegitimate.
There is a third reason for the commotion, of course. In 2020 in particular, the counting of ballots has really been a bit slower than it was two years prior.
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This is admittedly somewhat subjective, as there are various mechanics and triggers that trigger an official run call. Many news outlets, including The Washington Post, rely on Associated Press calls in federal and state races to determine official winners. So, to gauge how fast or slow states were counting, we pulled the PA’s official race call in each of the 435 House races it called for in 2018 and 2020 and assessed how long it took. it took to do it.
Different states close their polls at different times, of course, but our interest was in determining when the results were generally confirmed. So instead of comparing the results to the closing hours of the polls, we compared them to a universal measure: noon on Election Day on the East Coast. A race called as soon as the California polls close would then be recorded as occurring at 11 a.m. noon Eastern Time.
This is 2018. Because some races took much longer to call, the graph below is presented on a logarithmic scale, starting around 6 p.m. EST on Nov. 6 until more 300 hours later.
You’ll notice – and perhaps remember – that several of the longest races to call have been in California. A combination of intensive mail-in polls and plenty of home races routinely means California races come in slower than other states. The same is true for Washington State: voters vote by mail; whether it’s on the west coast has little to do with it.
One of the last races to be called, however, was the race in Utah’s 4th congressional district – a race that took a long time to call because it was so close. That’s the other factor here, of course. Races with narrower margins (shown with smaller circles) take longer to count and then to judge. Calls come later.
With 2018 as a reference, let’s move on to 2020. During this year, you certainly remember, states have relied more on mail-in ballots in an effort to reduce the threat of coronavirus transmission. Notice not only that the number of runs that took a long time to establish is larger below, but also the time span represented by the graph.
Again, California stands out, but so does New York. Changes to voting in that state have significantly slowed election results.
Overall, the average home race in which the AP made a call in 2018 had a winner identified around 3 p.m. noon Eastern Time on Election Day. In 2020, that stretched to almost 35 hours.
Much of this change is a function of New York, where the average has risen significantly over its large number of seats in the House. It is also shaped by the increase in Alaska, where it took much longer to determine the winner of the only state House race two years prior.
It is interesting to compare Virginia and Washington on this graph. The arrow indicating the change in Washington departs farther from the left axis, partly due to time difference. But while Virginia’s results were on average 12 hours slower in 2020 than in 2018, Washington’s results were more than 18 hours slower than they were two years prior. This despite the state’s experience with mail-in ballots.
The biggest increase was in New York, where results came in, on average, 200 hours later than in 2018.
Again, there’s nothing about it that’s particularly heavy. For one thing, there’s no evidence that slower counting injects illegal ballots — or even makes such an injection more feasible in the first place. It’s also unclear whether 2020 was an aberration caused by the pandemic or a mark of how long it will take to find out House results in the future.
The moral, as always, is to be patient. In 2018, the state that saw its last race called home the earliest by The Associated Press was Kentucky, where the last race was called before 9 p.m. Eastern. But the latest race was called in each state at an average of 11 p.m. Eastern time the day after Election Day. And in 2020, it took more than three days for all the results to arrive in average condition. It’s a little after noon on Friday.
That year, of course, the biggest race was only triggered on Saturday: Joe Biden’s presidential victory and Donald Trump’s re-election defeat.