INDIANAPOLIS — A record-breaking number of ballots have already been cast across central Indiana for the 2020 general election. With increased participation in the election, not only through in-person voting, but also by mail, it's possible there won't be a clear winner in the race for president on Election Night.
Gregory Shufeldt is a political science professor at Butler University who shared his expertise on this topic with WRTV.
"It is a near certainty, in my opinion, that we will not have official election results on Election Night. Given how many states, excluding Indiana, have extended the opportunity to vote by mail — there will more ballots arriving right around or on Election Day," Shufeldt said. "Likewise, some states just require ballots to be postmarked by Election Day. Also some states don’t start counting absentee ballots until Election Day, for example.
"Due to the large influx of ballots received by mail, it may take a few days or longer for state election authorities to finish counting. This naturally impacts the Presidential race, but also has potential to influence U.S. Senate races (and control of the Senate), and many other races."
Shufeldt said it's important to make a distinction between official and unofficial election results. Official election results are when all the votes (in-person, mail-in) have been counted. That could take a few days to weeks depending on each state's laws surrounding mail-in ballots. Unofficial election results, as Shufeldt explains, is how elections are normally called.
"We may very well know and be able to have confidence that a winner could be called on Election Night — but this would be unofficial. If current polling and forecasts are accurate and hold for the next three weeks, news outlets may be able to call the Presidential Race," Shufeldt said. "This is actually what happens the vast majority of the time. For example, the AP called Indiana for President Trump in 2016 at 6:59 p.m. (fifty-nine minutes after polls closed). All of the votes weren’t counted, but exit polling was able to give the AP confidence that President Trump was far enough ahead."
Shufeldt says whether Americans will know who the next President is before they go to bed on Election Day will depend how close the race is, whether respectable media outlets are in a position to call the race, and how the candidates respond. Shufeldt emphasizes the importance of the latter.
"Democratic legitimacy rests on a peaceful transition of power. That both sides would feel that the election was conducted fairly, that people had the opportunity to cast their ballots, and each side accepts the outcome are necessary for unofficial results to carry any water," Shufeldt said. "If a candidate refuses to concede, declares victory prematurely, or contests the legitimacy of the election, then we surely won’t have much resolution at all on Election Night."