Aug 05, 2022
FACT FOCUS: Why final election results take days, not hours
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Widely shared Twitter posts this week called the delayed results “corrupt” and “unacceptable,” while Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake in a press conference on Wednesday said Arizona voters should know the winner “when they go to bed on election night.”
She repeated that gripe during a radio interview Friday, the day after the AP declared her victory in the primary, saying “we had days of waiting to get the ballots counted. It’s a mess.”
These complaints ignore the realities of modern-day ballot processing, which requires extensive time and labor, according to election officials and experts. In fact, states have never reported official election results on election night, experts say.
Here’s a closer look at the facts.
CLAIM: In the past, election results have been released on election night.
THE FACTS: That’s misleading. While media outlets routinely project winners and The Associated Press calls races when it determines a clear victor, no state releases complete and final results on election night, nor have they ever done so in modern history, according to experts.
“In the entirety of American history, there were never official results on election night. That is not possible, it’s never happened,” said David Becker, a former U.S. Justice Department attorney and current executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research. “There is not a state in the union that doesn’t wait days, if not weeks, until after Election Day to officially certify the final results.”
He added that when margins are large enough in certain races, media outlets feel confident enough to call races for one candidate or another. For example, Katie Hobbs was the clear winner in Arizona’s Democratic primary for governor by Tuesday night, while the state’s GOP primary for governor was still too close to call until Thursday night.
But those projections aren’t official election results, and counting is still taking place after those calls are issued.
There’s a reasonable argument to be made that states could strive to release unofficial election results by election night, according to Charles Stewart, a political science professor at MIT. Some states, like Florida, have passed laws that make that easier, he said.
However, even states that do manage to report unofficial counts on election night spend the following days processing provisional ballots, reconciling unmatched signatures and correcting any tabulation errors, which leads to a delay in final results, Stewart said.
Those unofficial counts also aren’t sufficient for the closest races, where candidates must wait for final results to identify the winner anyway, Stewart said.
CLAIM: If election officials take days to release a complete ballot count, that means they cheated or are incompetent.
THE FACTS: That’s false. Time and labor is necessary to process and correctly tabulate ballots, experts and election officials say. Certain local laws also require procedures that extend the process.
For instance, election workers in Arizona are legally barred from picking up ballots from polling places before the sites close at 7 p.m. on Election Day, said Megan Gilbertson, a spokesperson for the Maricopa County Elections Department. And as the AP has previously reported, many voters who receive mail-in ballots opt to return them on Election Day.
In this year’s primary election in Maricopa County, which is Arizona’s largest county by far, more than 120,000 voters dropped off their ballots on Election Day, creating a backlog of votes that needed to be processed after the polls closed, Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer explained on Twitter.
Those ballots accounted for most of the votes still being counted in the days after the primary election, Richer said.
The law also requires that mail-in ballots undergo signature verification, a time-intensive process in which the signatures on ballot envelopes are compared to voters’ on-file signatures to verify authenticity, according to Gilbertson. After the signature is verified, bipartisan two-person teams then have to physically separate the ballots from their envelopes and prepare them for tabulation.
“We’ve had two-member teams that take your ballot out of your envelope, flatten it, they have to count every single ballot and every single envelope,” Gilbertson said. “It is a very, very manual process, but that is required by statute to have those bipartisan boards do that separation.”
“They are making sure that eligible voters are the only ones who vote and they only vote once. And that takes time,” Becker said. “We should be thrilled that election officials all across the country take that seriously. It is much more important to get it accurate than to get it fast.”
Arizona state law gives counties 10 days to tabulate and certify the primary election results, according to Sophia Solis, a spokesperson for the Arizona Secretary of State.
“We don’t anticipate any delays as we expect everyone will meet their statutory deadlines,” she wrote in an email to the AP.
CLAIM: Maricopa County election results are particularly slow this year.
THE FACTS: No, they aren’t. County data shows that ballot counts for primary elections took between seven and 10 days in each midterm year from 2006 to 2020. In 2020, Maricopa County took seven days to finish counting, the data shows.
This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.
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Dangerous winds could hamper fight against massive, lethal McKinney fire
Strong winds expected to sweep through the Shasta Valley could hinder the progress made in recent days by thousands of firefighters in containing the massive and deadly McKinney wildfire burning at the California-Oregon border.
Since it began in the Klamath National Forest late last month, the blaze has killed four people, destroyed 87 homes and consumed 60,044 acres, but its spread has slowed over the past few days, with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reporting 30% containment. It is the largest wildfire in the state so far this year.
Forecasts of wind gusts of up to 30 mph pose significant new risks and prompted the National Weather Service in Medford, Ore., to prepare to issue a red flag warning for Yreka, Calif., and other parts of the valley along Interstate 5 starting Sunday afternoon.
“When you put a lot of wind on a fire, a lot of bad things can happen,” said Ryan Sandler, one of the meteorologists monitoring the situation. Dangerous wind conditions are expected through at least Monday.Map shows the area where the McKinney fire is burning near the California-Oregon border.
CalFire public information officer Aaron Johnson said some 2,700 crew members will continue digging and maintaining control lines around and through the fire, but are preparing for the possibility of more intense flames and new fires.
“With the high winds, it could potentially throw off spot fires,” said Johnson.
Siskiyou County has seen days of 90- and 100-degree heat and very low humidity, and the addition of the strong winds brings the risk of the fire to become “plume dominated” with enormous clouds and erratic behavior, Sandler said. The winds could reach up to 30 mph in the valley and up to 20 mph in the more mountainous area where the fire is burning.
“Because the atmosphere is so hot, dry and unstable, the fire can in effect create its own weather,” he said.
Some areas of the blaze saw up to 3 inches of rain last week, but the intense heat quickly dried the ground and vegetation, and no thunderstorms are expected in the next week.