Late the night of Nov. 6, or by the wee hours of Nov. 7, Americans should know the results of the presidential election, right? Probably. But the extremely tight races in several states, shifting voter identification requirements, the increased use of “provisional” ballots and automatic recount provisions in key states all expand the possibility of a prolonged, slow-motion finish. Ten states in recent years have passed laws requiring voters to show government-issued photo identification. This, in turn, has prompted lawsuits by those who say not all eligible voters can meet the requirements.
When this and other questions come up about a voter’s eligibility, federal law (passed after the confusion and recriminations over the 2000 recount in Florida) requires that states at least allow voters to cast “provisional” ballots. These votes are to be counted later, if an individual provides adequate proof they are registered to vote.
At least 2.1 million provisional ballots were submitted in 2008 and 68% were eventually counted, according to the Caltech-MIT Voting Technology Project. But the assessment of those ballots can take days, potentially affecting the outcome in states where the number of challenged ballots exceeds the front-runner’s lead.