It could take days to find out the midterm elec­tion re­sults

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - FROM PAGE ONE - By John McCormick and Greg Giroux Bloomberg News

Vot­ers plan­ning to stay up late on Elec­tion Night to find out which party wins con­trol of the House and Sen­ate should be pre­pared for a pos­si­ble marathon wait.

The un­usu­ally large num­ber of close con­tests, many in states known for slow bal­lot count­ing, means the first con­gres­sional elec­tion of Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­dency could go into over­time, per­haps for days af­ter Nov. 6.

State elec­tion of­fi­cials will be con­tend­ing with po­ten­tially nar­row mar­gins, ab­sen­tee and pro­vi­sional bal­lots as well as the po­ten­tial for con­tested re­sults.

The first re­sults, af­ter polls close in the east­ern U.S. be­gin­ning as early as 6 p.m. New York time, may give an early in­di­ca­tion of whether Democrats man­aged to gen­er­ate a so-called wave elec­tion that sweeps Repub­li­cans out of con­trol in the House and, per­haps, the Sen­ate.

But even a rout is no guar­an­tee of a quick res­o­lu­tion. In 2006, the last wave elec­tion, it took two days to de­ter­mine that Democrats had flipped con­trol of the Sen­ate be­cause of close re­sults in Vir­ginia and Mon­tana.

“In the nor­mal course of any elec­tion, there are go­ing to be bal­lots that take longer to count,” said Michael McDon­ald, a Uni­ver­sity of Flor­ida pro­fes­sor who tracks vot­ing data. “If those are the states where there are par­tic­u­larly close elec­tions, we may be sit­ting a few days be­fore we know.”

The prospects for am­bi­gu­ity are higher this year, in part, be­cause of the un­usu­ally large num­ber of com­pet­i­tive House races in Cal­i­for­nia, where vot­ing by mail is more pop­u­lar than in-per­son bal­lot­ing. Golden State bal­lots can be post­marked on Elec­tion Day and aren’t due in county elec­tion of­fices un­til the Fri­day af­ter the elec­tion.

The state, where about a quar­ter of the bal­lots cast in 2014 were tal­lied at least two days af­ter the elec­tion, is cen­tral to Demo­cratic ef­forts to try to se­cure the net gain of 23 seats the party needs to take the House. It has seven races rated as com­pet­i­tive — ei­ther tossups or just lean­ing Demo­crat or Repub­li­can — by the non­par­ti­san Cook Po­lit­i­cal Re­port.

In that midterm four years ago, it took Cal­i­for­nia of­fi­cials more than two weeks to con­firm a re-elec­tion vic­tory for Demo­cratic Rep. Jim Costa. On elec­tion night, he trailed Repub­li­can chal­lenger Johnny Tacherra, who went to Wash­ing­ton for ori­en­ta­tion dur­ing the drawn-out tab­u­la­tion. But Costa ul­ti­mately pulled ahead in the full tally that in­cluded Demo­cratic-lean­ing pro­vi­sional and ab­sen­tee bal­lots.

This year’s Cal­i­for­nia pri­mary in June is also in­struc­tive. It took 19 days to de­ter­mine the sec­ond-place fin­isher in the 48th con­gres­sional dis­trict, in a con­test where the first and sec­ond place win­ners — no mat­ter their po­lit­i­cal party — ad­vanced to the gen­eral elec­tion. The race, be­tween in­cum­bent Repub­li­can Dana Rohrabacher and Demo­crat Harley Rouda, is among the seven in the state that Cook rates as com­pet­i­tive.

With 435 House and 35 Sen­ate seats on the na­tion’s bal­lots, other states could gen­er­ate count­ing de­lays or polling place le­gal chal­lenges as well.

Wash­ing­ton state, where Cook rates three House races as com­pet­i­tive, con­ducts all of its vot­ing by mail. Bal­lots must be post­marked no later than Elec­tion Day, or re­turned to a bal­lot drop box by 11 p.m. East­ern Time.

Iowa has two House races rated as com­pet­i­tive and makes wide use of ab­sen­tee bal­lots. Those votes must be post­marked by the day be­fore the elec­tion and re­ceived in a county au­di­tor’s of­fice no later than noon on the Mon­day fol­low­ing the elec­tion.

The tab­u­la­tion of pro­vi­sional bal­lots in close con­tests also could slow the con­gres­sional ver­dict.

States are re­quired un­der fed­eral law to pro­vide them to any­one with a prob­lem at the polls, in­clud­ing vot­ers who don’t have the re­quired form of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion or those whose names are miss­ing from polling place reg­is­tra­tion lists.

Elec­tion of­fi­cials re­view pro­vi­sional bal­lots and al­low vot­ers to clar­ify their el­i­gi­bil­ity af­ter Elec­tion Day, and that can be a time-con­sum­ing process. Races are of­ten called by the As­so­ci­ated Press and other news or­ga­ni­za­tions even be­fore pro­vi­sional bal­lots are counted be­cause the mar­gins of most con­tests are de­fin­i­tive enough that those ad­di­tional bal­lots won’t al­ter the out­come.

If there are races that are ex­tremely close that haven’t been called on Elec­tion Night, McDon­ald said his re­search sug­gests that pro­vi­sional bal­lots tend to break strongly for Democrats.

That’s be­cause younger vot­ers, who tend to move more of­ten and lean Demo­cratic, are some of the big­gest users of pro­vi­sional bal­lots.


Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date John Cox and other Cal­i­for­nia hope­fuls can go to bed early on elec­tion night. That’s be­cause in 2014, about a quar­ter of the votes cast weren’t counted for at least two days.

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