2020 US election: why is it taking so long to announce...

Poll experts and poll workers tell us they never expected a winner to be announced that night.

But people around the world are now wondering why – almost two days after the polls were completed – we still don’t know who the President of the United States will be.

In a speech in the early hours of the counting, Donald declared himself the winner of the US election – but his challenger Joe Biden preferred to say to his supporters: “Patience, patience, patience”.

And now patience seems to be the key.

Here’s why there was a delay:

Postal votes are largely to blame. Just like the US system, which allows states to all have their own (and often different) rules for something, but specifically for voting in this case.

This means that each state sets a different schedule and deadline for when they should be counted.

Some states do not allow poll workers to begin labor-intensive processing of mail (or “mail-in” as they are known in the United States) on their own by election day.

The deadline for absentee ballots in North Carolina is November 10, Alaska is November 12, and Washington State is November 23.

Washington and Alaska are relatively unimportant to the final result of the presidential race, since Washington is strongly Democratic and Alaska is pretty solidly Republican, but it still means that a full number of votes will not be available for many days.

All eyes are on the tellers

Postal votes tend to take longer to be counted than those cast at a polling station as they have to go through a lengthy process to ensure they are not fraudulent.

Of course, there were record numbers of them this year – more than 99 million – due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. Because of this, dozens of states have changed their postal voting rules – some of these changes are far more extensive than others.

California, Nevada, New Jersey and Vermont, along with Washington DC, sent postal ballots to all voters, joining the handful of states that are already voting through the mail.

There was also a major expansion of who can vote “absent”. Many states, including New Hampshire and New York, have suspended the need for an apology for a postal vote or the fear of contracting COVID-19 while voting is a valid excuse.

Other states have changed deadlines and / or relaxed the rules for submitting a postal ballot. Some states – often as a result of litigation – have stated that postal ballot papers only need to be postmarked by election day, rather than being received by then. And in Virginia, for example, a postal vote does not need a witness signature.

In short, the voting rules vary widely Announcement of an overall winner a difficult – and slow – process.

Of the final states yet to be declared:

There may be a delay in Arizona in making a call


Arizona state law allows election officials to count postal votes up to two weeks prior to election day. These figures can be published from 10 p.m. on election night.

However, postal ballot papers sent immediately prior to the election (if postmarked before November 3rd) may not be counted until today or Friday, leaving the state undecided until next week.

North Carolina

The North Carolina State Board of Elections estimated that 80% of votes would be cast early or by mail and were largely counted after their polls closed at 7:30 p.m. that night. However, the deadline for this type of voting ends on November 12th, which means that a full count is not yet available for a few days.

As long as mail-in votes are postmarked by election day, they will be counted – a policy recently upheld by the US Supreme Court. As in other states with generous postal voting deadlines, these final ballots could mean the full result is unclear for days.


This state has a November 10th deadline for postal ballot papers.


Alaska is one of only two states that will start counting postal ballots afterwards eElection day. New York is the other state, and absenteeism is counted three days after the election. Alaska’s deadline is November 13th.


Shortly after President Donald Trump captured the most important swing state, Florida, the focus shifted to the northeastern United States and the battlefield state of Pennsylvania. In 2016, Mr Trump’s victory here ultimately resulted in his victory over Hillary Clinton.

The three were expected to keep Pennsylvania – and its 20 votes for the electoral college – always tight, with low profit margins and the very real prospect of recounts and legal challenges.

The deadline for postal voting ends on Friday, November 6th.

Pennsylvania election officials can accept postal ballot papers received up to three days after the election, provided they are postmarked by November 3rd.

Many districts began processing ballots as soon as they were allowed to do so – at 7 a.m. on election day – but a handful said they would not start processing postal ballots until the next morning at the earliest.

If the 2020 election takes place in Pennsylvania and room for maneuver remains tight, it is possible that the election will remain pending for several days.

Donald Trump’s election campaign on Wednesday declared victory in the state and filed a lawsuit with the Supreme Court demanding that the remaining ballots not be counted.

The campaign said it was sued to temporarily suspend vote counting in Pennsylvania, citing a lack of “transparency” in the counting process.

What is Trump’s postal voting problem?

The President's recent allegations about the postal voting system were unfounded
The President’s recent allegations about the postal voting system were unfounded

The sitting president has made no secret of his opposition to people voting by mail, and in fact most Republicans have listened to his reasoning and voted in person.

He described the mail-in system as “a huge fraud”.

His stance was in some ways bolstered by a warning from the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) last summer that millions of mail-in votes may not arrive in time to be counted due to the record number of applications.

Critics even went so far as to blame the new USPS chief – a loyal supporter of President Donald Trump – for slowing deliveries.

Mr Trump feared that absenteeism would hurt his campaign as he is largely backed by Democratic voters, and he took the drastic step of refusing to provide $ 25 billion (£ 19 billion) in emergency funding to the USPS, or 3.5 $ Billion to sign for election security move was due to cost alone.

Mr Trump has also repeatedly condemned postal voting as an opportunity for fraud and electoral harm.

However, numerous studies at national and state level have shown that electoral fraud is very rare despite individual cases.

PENARTH, WALES - APRIL 15: A letter will be posted in a red post box in Penarth, Wales on April 15, 2020. The pandonavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has spread to many countries around the world. It claimed over 120,000 lives and infected over 2 million people. (Photo by Stu Forster / Getty Images)
Votes received after 10pm on Election Day in the UK will not be accepted

Why don’t we have these delays in the UK?

To be fair, we didn’t hold any elections during a pandemic so the counters weren’t flooded with absentee ballots.

In the UK system, postal votes are sent to all registered voters in the two weeks leading up to election day and can be opened and sorted at any time until election day. The signature on each form is pre-scanned and securely wrapped so that it can be taken to the polling station that night.

Although the postal votes are opened and the associated personal identity information is verified, the ballot papers are handled undercover until the start of the count after the poll is completed, so that it is not clear how the votes were cast.

The key difference between the UK and the US is that any ballot paper in the premium envelope provided (or personally dropped off at a polling station) does not have to be completed and returned before 10pm on election day.

Officials returning during the night ensure that papers arrive in sealed boxes at the count until they are opened and counted.

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