When Will We Know Who Won? 2 Charts You Need

Thanks to the huge increase of mail-in ballots this year, it is very likely that we won’t know who has won the presidency on Election Night.

But when will we know? Every state has different dates when they process and then tabulate mail-in ballots, and while many require that ballots are received by Election Day, quite a few allow ballots to be received anywhere from 1-17 days afterwards.

I searched all over to make sense of all the deadlines, and found these two charts that are really helpful.

Chart 1: When will ballots be processed?

Before a mail-in ballot can be counted, the signature on the envelope needs to be confirmed, the ballot needs to be taken out of the envelope, and then flattened in order to be tabulated. Those states that process mail-in ballots BEFORE Election Day will be better able to release results from those ballots quickly. The states that don’t start processing mail-in ballots until Election Day will not be so quick. Here’s a handy chart from the New York Times that breaks this down for us.

Infographic from New York Times

Chart 2: How late can absentee ballots be received?

Of course, the results of in-person ballots that are cast on Election Day are generally available later that same night, in all but the closest of races. But this year, with the potential of a majority of ballots being cast prior to the big day, it really matters how long after Election Day a ballot can be received and still be tabulated.

As you can see, there are quite a few swing states that are crucial to determining who won the Electoral College or states with an important Senate race that allow ballots to be received quite a number of days AFTER Election Day.

Infographic from Pew Research Center

Making sense of it all

One thing we all need to watch out for, is media outlets that aren’t being transparent about how many outstanding ballots there still are in any given state. Taking North Carolina as one example, ballots can be received up to 3 days after Election Day, so anytime we see the networks or social media talking about how many votes have been counted for Biden or Trump, we need to remind people that there are 3 more days worth of ballots to count.

The other thing is, there are a handful of swing states that we should have substantial results from on Election night, like Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Wisconsin and possibly Ohio. If this turns out to be a lopsided contest, we may know the likely result by early the next day.

In any case, I encourage you to either share this article or the information in these charts widely — both to spread the word that results will come in over a series of days, but also letting people know exactly when certain states should be reporting results.


Get Out the Vote Tip of the Day: Take a picture of you mailing your sealed ballot or your “I Voted” sticker and share it widely. Research proves there is a powerful psychology at work that encourages others to follow suit and vote!

Get the rest of my tips here: 19 Quick Ways to Turn Out the Vote in 2020

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Categories: Elections, Explainers

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6 replies

  1. I don’t see a date on the chart from Pew, but the MI info is wrong as the 14 day window was recently struck down. MI ballots must be received by 8pm on Nov. 3 to be counted. So, use the chart, but double check as so many things can change.

    https://www.bridgemi.com/michigan-government/michigan-mail-ballots-must-reach-clerks-nov-3-appeals-court-rules

  2. Thanks for your efforts. Voting early, during the week was quick (20 minutes), well done, safe and secure. Please vote folks. One candidate will try to bring us together, while the other sows seeds of division. The first one is not perfect, but no one is. Please vote. Thanks, Keith

  3. I vote from abroad in PA and I had to spent a lot of time, money and effort to ensure that my ballot was received and that I would be counted. I’m very stubborn and a politics junky and it was still daunting to me so it’s not surprising that so many just give up. Not that any of you need reminding, but voting has effectively become accessible to the most privileged. The shabby state of the electoral process in PA, et al, has to be addressed by the next midterm. No bandaids, please.

    • Thank you for being so diligent with your vote, Madeleine. A big story this morning is that we’ve made it easier for a white astronaut to vote from space than for a Black voter to vote in their neighborhood.

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