It’s been a week since Election Day, and we’re still awaiting results from Florida and Georgia, where nationally prominent races are too close to call. Since Election Day, an additional 50,000 votes have been counted in Florida, narrowing the lead for Republican Gov. Rick Scott over Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson in the Senate race, and for Republican Ron DeSantis over Democrat Andrew Gillum in the gubernatorial contest. Both races are headed to a recount. In Georgia, nearly 150,000 votes have been added to the election night tally, cutting the lead of Republican Brian Kemp in half over Democrat Stacey Abrams in the contest for governor. That contest, too, may be headed for a recount. Across the country, in Arizona, a close-but-comfortable election night lead for Republican senatorial candidate Martha McSally was transformed a week later into a victory for her Democratic opponent, Kyrsten Sinema, as an additional 800,000 ballots were counted, and the results flipped.
This slow process of counting ballots has produced considerable controversy. But it shouldn’t. Both state laws and sheer logistics make it impossible to finish counting ballots on election night or even within a day or two. Here’s why that is — and why newly counted ballots seem to favor Democratic candidates.
The election night tradition of gathering around the television to see the votes come in and news organizations “call” the winners gives us a false impression: All the votes that need to be counted can, and should, be tallied in the minutes after the close of polls.
But this is wrong. For one, in almost every state, provisional ballots will have been cast on Election Day by voters whose registration cannot be verified. In 2016, 2.1 million voters cast a provisional ballot, 71 percent of which were eventually counted after the registration was verified. States are currently in the middle of verifying the registration status of those who cast provisional ballots in 2018, and decisions are being made about whether to count those ballots in this election. Moreover, millions of ballots have been mailed in, which now need to be opened, have voters’ signatures compared to the signature on record and then scanned.