Friday, December 9

Why is it taking so long to count votes in the United States?

Three days after the US mid-term elections, a sense of deja vu hangs over the country. As in the intense days of 2020, when it took four days to declare the presidential victory of Joe Biden, Americans are again wondering why they have to wait so long for the election result.

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The week ends and it remains unknown which of the two major parties will control the chambers of Congress. In the Senate, the Republicans have 49 seats and the Democrats, 48. There are two states that have not yet spoken, Arizona and Nevada; and in Georgia there is going to be a second round of elections.

In the House of Representatives there are more than 40 seats to be decided and the race is very close in at least a dozen of them. What is it about the US electoral system that the counting of votes is apparently so slow?

Where do the counts go and why?

Each of the 50 states has a responsibility to conduct fair and speedy elections, as is the case with many of the rules that regulate the US Government. The form of the count and its speed vary slightly between the different states (the electoral result deniers have suggested that the slow counts are somehow irregular or fraudulent, but this is not the case).

Importantly, the count is dragging on in states with closely contested elections. The news networks hesitate to venture a name because the differences between the candidates are small and there are still many ballots to count. Much of the news stress is concentrated in three states: Arizona, Nevada and Georgia.

What happens in Arizona?

Several of the most important contests take place in the state of Arizona, bordering Mexico. The fight for the Arizona Senate seat between Democrat Mark Kelly and Republican challenger Blake Masters could determine which party ends up controlling the US Senate.

Arizona also voted on Tuesday to elect relevant state positions, such as governor and secretary of state, and there are candidates backed by Donald Trump with a chance of winning.

So far only 82% of the state’s votes have been counted. To understand why you have to go to Maricopa County, where Phoenix, the capital of Arizona, is located. Maricopa is the second largest electoral jurisdiction in the US, accounting for 60% of all votes in the state.

The number of citizens voting early has increased dramatically since the COVID pandemic. This year, Maricopa County also saw the number of early ballots delivered on Election Day – so-called “late earlies” – rise to 290,000. [o votos ‘anticipados retrasados’], due to the procedure of delaying its delivery until election day. It is the largest number reached in state history and represents an increase of 100,000 ballots over those of 2020.

Each early ballot must be verified to verify that the voter’s signature matches that of the electoral roll. Once verified, it is sent to a panel made up of representatives of the two parties that approve and process it. As we are seeing, all this takes time.

Many people have compared Arizona’s vote count to that of Florida, which announced its results the same Tuesday, just hours after the polls closed. That state’s system allows election officials to count mail-in votes as soon as they are received. Votes by mail must be requested and must be received by an electoral supervisor no later than 7:00 pm on Election Day.

But the main reason Ron DeSantis won re-election so quickly on Tuesday was because of his landslide victory: the Republican governor received 59% of the vote while Charlie Crist, his rival, received only 40%.

Most likely, we would not have been waiting for the electoral race to be decided in Arizona and other states if the advantage obtained by one of their candidates had been so decisive.

Even so, it is true that Arizona is going to have to resolve some issues in upcoming elections. What Stephen Richer saidMaricopa County Recorder, once the dust settles, “we will most likely want to have a political conversation about what we value more, the convenience of casting early ballots on Election Day itself, or a higher percentage of votes 24 hours after election night.

What about Nevada?

With 90% of the votes counted, Nevada is running a little faster than Arizona, but this year its count could last until Sunday. As in Arizona with Phoenix, in Nevada there is still a large number of ballots to be processed in the large urban areas of Reno and Las Vegas.

Elections in Nevada are largely done by mail ballot, and that’s something that takes time. Although the postmark date must be prior to Election Day for mail-in ballots to be considered, the state allows the envelopes to arrive up to four days after Election Day (a deadline this year is June 12). november).

There is a debate about the advantages of this system. Many election officials insist on the importance of a comfortable, accurate and accessible system, rather than a fast one.

The stakes are also high in the Nevada ballot. It includes a very close race between the incumbent senator, Catherine Cortez Masto, and the Republican challenger, Adam Laxalt; three close fights for House seats in Washington; and a battle involving Jim Marchant, one of the most visceral deniers of Biden’s electoral victory, a candidate to become the state’s main electoral authority.

And Georgia?

Georgia has already completed the count for its critical Senate race, with Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock pulling out a narrow victory over Herschel Walker, a former football star who has Trump’s endorsement. But the Georgian electoral system provides for a second round when none of the candidates gets more than 50%, and that is what has happened.

Again it seems that we are in groundhog day: in the elections that gave Biden the presidency, to know that the Democrats would control the Senate we had to wait until January 2021 to know the result of the two runoff elections. At least Georgia has speeded up the process: the new election law SB 202 has significantly shortened the period for this second round of elections, which will be held on December 6.

Translated by Francisco de Zarate