Mail-In Ballots, Key Election States, and What to Expect Now

Attention has turned toward a handful of key states that are counting different kinds of ballots in different timeframes.

2020 voters with voting t-shirts
(Image credit: SOPA Images)

As expected, Election Day has come and gone, and Americans are still waiting to hear who will win in many races, particularly who will be the next President of the United States. If you’re a Biden supporter, there’s reason to be hopeful. As of press time, Biden has more electoral college votes than Trump, and many remaining states that have yet to be called—including Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Arizona—are leaning towards Biden. But this is far from a done deal.

As we continue to watch votes come in, it is clear that there were differences in strategies by each campaign: Trump encouraged voters to head to the polls on Election Day, while Biden pushed voters to cast their ballots early. Each state has its own election system, which means states decide who qualifies for mail-in ballots, when they get sent out, and when they are counted. The question now is how and when states are going to count mail-in ballots, which are expected to favor Biden. With many potential swing states, like Florida and Texas, getting called early for Trump last night, all focus has shifted to the mail-in ballots in just a few states, the same states I covered this fall on my podcast, Your Presidential Playlista guide to the 2020 Presidential election, explained by the women who know the states the best.

Pennsylvania is one of the key states in determining the outcome of this election, and today, Trump is up by about 500,000 votes. But, there are about 1.3 million absentee votes to count, with most of them coming from the strongly Democratic Philadelphia area. Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti told me this morning, “Pennsylvanians take their civic duty seriously. PA voters showed up in droves—by mail, dropbox, and at the polls. A significant number of new voters showed up. Mail-in voting is new in PA. It’s going to take time to count, perhaps until late in the week, so we need to be patient.”

Nevada is another state that will be critical for the final electoral college vote count. Unlike in Pennsylvania where voters had to request a mail-in ballot, Nevada’s board of elections automatically sent a ballot out to every registered voter. Nevada Secretary of State, Barbara Cevagske, the official who oversees elections, said that she will not start sharing data, including how many votes might still be left to count, until Thursday because they simply do not know how big of an impact absentee ballot distribution had.

Early this morning, President Trump falsely declared victory, saying that states should stop counting votes, a continuation of the doubt he has already endeavored to cast around the legitimacy of mail-in ballots. This messaging from the President is intended to influence his supporters into thinking that mail-in votes are not real, even though they are. (The Military and the elderly—and Trump himself—have been voting this way for years.)

But it’s not just the President sowing seeds of doubt about the integrity of our elections. We are going to see Republican state and local officials challenging individual ballots. They have filed more than 200 lawsuits in the past two years regarding how people can vote, where people can vote, which votes are counted, and how people can register. Republicans have mostly lost these challenges, but with Trump’s court appointees, anything is possible. In battleground states like Pennsylvania, we may see state and local officials arguing that a person’s vote should not be counted because their signature does not match the one on file, they did not sign an envelope, or did not use the correct color of ink. The speed of this process will affect the timeline of when we know who has won the key states still at play and, ultimately, who is the next President of the United States.

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(Image credit: Andrew Renneisen)
Emily Tisch Sussman
Contributing Editor

Emily Tisch Sussman is the Founder and Host of “She Pivots,” the podcast in partnership with Marie Claire about women, their stories, and how their pivot became their success. She is a contributing editor to Maire Claire and the guest host of the Marie Claire Instagram Live series “Getting Down to Business.”