Some states won’t start counting votes until election night, including Minnesota

By: - September 21, 2020 1:56 pm
Line of people waiting to vote

Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images.

The country is ready for this presidential election to be over, but when it’s over it may not actually be over. 

We’re used to getting results and learning the winner on Election Day, which this year is Nov. 3. But with so many people voting by mail this year due to the pandemic, counting the ballots is expected to take longer.

Although some states are allowed to start counting mailed votes before Nov. 3, Minnesota is one of 14 states where the votes cannot be counted until after the polls close on Election Day.

Plus, Minnesota’s results could come in slower because we’re making it easier to vote this year by giving people more time. A judge ruled the state can take an additional week to count votes that are postmarked as late as Election Day.

Election officials here are allowed to start processing and preparing ballots for counting before Election Day, however, so the votes can normally be quickly tabulated when the polls close at 8 p.m. The ballots basically just get run through a machine at that point.

That’s how election officials already know how many absentee ballots have been received, and can keep tabs on how many absentee ballot requests have been submitted — over 1 million so far — and, beginning Sept. 18, accepted.

Other states don’t allow ballot processing to begin until Election Day either, including powerhouse swing states Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, which could lead to slow counts, fear-mongering about irregularities and legal challenges. 

President Trump has repeatedly claimed mail-in voting is prone to fraud, and even encouraged supporters to vote by mail and then go to the polls on Election Day just to be sure the system works. (Not a good plan, election officials say.)

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon has said while we won’t have a final count on election night — but “we will likely know outcomes,” said Risikat Adesaogun, his press secretary. Results were quickly tabulated in the August primary.

Seventeen states — including Iowa, Arizona and Texas — are allowed to start counting votes before Election Day. And 20 — including Florida — can start counting before the polls close on Election Day. Florida officials can start processing ballots weeks before the election, so isn’t expected to cause another month-long “hanging chads” debacle this year, as in the 2000 presidential election.

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs.