What Happens After the Voting for President Ends?

Officials count ballots in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania after the November 3 election.

The Presidential election took place on November 3, 2020. Joe Biden is projected as the winner. But the election isn’t over when the polls close. There is a process to make sure that the election was fair and that all votes are counted.

Some people mail in their ballots instead of coming to the polls to vote. Each state has rules about when those ballots can be delivered and still be counted. In some states, for example, the mail-in ballots are not counted until after the polls close. So officials are still counting votes after Election Day. Officials also check any ballots they are unsure about. For example, they might want to check to be sure a voter was legally registered.

Once all the votes are counted, election officials certify the results. The deadlines are different for each state. The District of Columbia and 26 states have deadlines between November 10 and November 30—those results are already certified. Fourteen states have deadlines in early December. Four states—Hawaii, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and New Hampshire—have no deadline for certification. (This year, however, these four states have already certified the election results.)

Each state is required to have all the results certified by a certain date, called the “safe harbor” deadline. Any issues with voting need to be resolved by then. This year, the safe harbor deadline is December 8, 2020. Then the electors who have been selected by each state cast their votes for president and vice president on December 14. Only then is the election official.

What Do You Think? Why isn’t the election “over” on Election Day?

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