Concerns about a supposed delay stem from a coronavirus-fueled interest in absentee and mail-in ballots. In a July survey of more than 19,000 Americans, 41 percent of those who plan to vote said they were “very likely” to vote by mail this year, and another 23 percent said they would be “somewhat likely” to do so. That compares with 21 percent who voted by mail in 2016, “which itself was a historic high,” the survey, conducted by a consortium of universities, noted. Counting those ballots could potentially take days or weeks, which means projecting a winner on election night may not be possible.
Yet even if counting takes several weeks, that wouldn’t constitute a delay — because by law, election results aren’t official until more than a month after the election. The 12th Amendment and the accompanying Electoral Count Act of 1887 give states five weeks — this year, until Dec. 8 — to count their popular votes. That tally determines each state’s presidential electors, who cast their state’s votes six days later, on Dec. 14. Only if states miss that December deadline would election results be genuinely late.
That means all of us — politicians, the media, pundits and voters in general — need to reorient our thinking. The election is officially decided in December, not in November. There is nothing pernicious, or even unusual, about this. The only problem is one of perception.