Political elections have long been compared to horse races, what with odds-on favorites and dark-horse candidates; plenty of breathless commentary; gaps closing and lengthening, if not changes in leads; and photo finishes where the winner isn’t immediately known just because the race is over.
And it seems increasingly likely it could take well past Election Night before a winner is declared in the race between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, with the race potentially turning on results in Pennsylvania or another tipping-point state, where a surge in mail-in ballots might take days to count.
That’s a new experience for voters in some states where accessibility to mail-in voting has been expanded this year in order to limit voters’ exposure to covid-19; but less so for Washington state voters who have a long history with mail-in and — increasingly — drop-box voting. We’ve seen enough races in past elections where leads were smaller than the number of ballots still left to be counted, and candidates and others have hung hopes on the posting of each day’s tally of straggling ballots.
Two points are clear from that and other close races: Every vote counts, and every vote has to be counted.
As to the first point, most voters got that message early this year; compared to past elections, there are fewer registered voters who have yet to return ballots. As of Friday afternoon, about 60 percent of the county’s 516,598 ballots had been returned; similar to the nearly 61 percent of the state’s 4,869,530 ballots. Those numbers seem to support expectations for a near-record if not record voter turnout this year.
For those who haven’t returned their ballots, voters have three days now to mark their ballots and get them in. Returning them to a ballot drop box before 8 p.m. on Tuesday is the best way to ensure your ballot is received and counted. You can still mail your ballot — no postage required — but check the pick-up time listed on the U.S. Postal Service box to ensure your ballot is postmarked before the Election Night deadline.
And make sure to sign and date the ballot envelope and include a phone number where the county elections office can contact you if necessary.
If you want to check the status of your ballot, go to the Washington Secretary of State’s voter information website at VoteWA.gov.
As to the second point, counting every ballot — and waiting for the results of specific races and measures — could require some patience and a willingness to understand that the candidate leading on election night may not be the winner once all the ballots are counted, especially in a year when so many ballots are arriving by mail or drop box and may not be counted until after the Election Day tally.
The polling website, FiveThirtyEight.com, notes that Pennsylvania could see a “blue shift” in votes between Election Night and possibly Friday when about 2 million mail-in ballots will have been counted, ballots that could favor Biden over Trump and change an early lead. That potential for a change in leads should not be seen as proof of voter fraud.
That’s been a difficult message to get across when President Trump has insisted for months on pushing baseless claims that mail-in voting is inaccurate and fraudulent.
In truth, election administrators, election law experts and academics say voter fraud is exceedingly rare, including our state’s Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican, who in 2017 called Trump’s allegations of widespread voter fraud “ludicrous on its face.”
A Carnegie Corporation and Knight Foundation study of known voter fraud cases between 2000 and 2012 found only 491 cases out of hundreds of millions of votes cast, recounted author David Daley in a Washington Post commentary published last week in The Herald. Even the Heritage Foundation, a critic of mail-in ballots that maintains a database of voter fraud cases could document only about 200 convictions for absentee ballot fraud out of 250 million ballots cast during the past 20 years, Daley wrote; an average of about seven convictions a year over those years.
Election officials — from the county level on up — work diligently to ensure voting rules are followed and an accurate count of ballots is completed for all voters in all races.
Once all the ballots — rather than bets — are in, we wait for the winners to be announced.