What to expect on Election Night


FILE – In this May 27, 2020, file photo, a voter drops off their mail-in ballot prior to the primary election, in Willow Grove, Pa. The civic ritual of casting a ballot has been disrupted by a global pandemic and dramatically animated by social unrest. And If the results of a frustrating, chaotic primary in Georgia are a measure, the notion of democracy itself will also be on the ballot in the November election. Congress is now considering sending $3.6 billion to states to help facilitate safe and fair elections as part of another round of relief funds to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

BOSTON (SHNS) – What happens when you hold one of the most bitterly contentious presidential elections of recent history in the middle of a global pandemic and with greater access to early and mail-in voting?

One thing that most observers agree about Election Night 2020 is that the results may not be clear Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, and Secretary of State William Galvin’s office this week offered a rundown of what to expect once polls close next week.

Half of all registered voters in Massachusetts have already voted or have asked for a ballot to be sent by mail to them, but no ballot counting will begin until at least 8 p.m. Tuesday. But as early as Oct. 25, local elections officials could begin marking voters who had returned a ballot off the voter list, removing mailed ballots from their inner envelopes, and running ballots into tabulators as long as it is done in public and with at least three days notice, Galvin said. But no total can be tabulated until polls close.

On Election Night, unofficial results will include votes cast in person on Election Day, votes cast in person during the state’s early voting period and mail-in ballots received on or before Nov. 3. “Local election officials have been instructed to total all of these results before reporting any unofficial results, so any results you see by precinct should be inclusive of all of the above ballots,” the secretary’s office said.

The state does not report unofficial results, but many media organizations have arrangements with city and town clerks to obtain the unofficial results tabulated in each community.

Mail-in ballots this year will be counted if they are postmarked by Nov. 3 and arrive at the local election office by 5 p.m. on Nov. 6. Ballots mailed from overseas, from members of the U.S. military and others, will be counted if they are postmarked by Nov. 3 and arrive by 5 p.m. on Nov. 13, Galvin’s office said.

All ballots received after Election Day must be held aside to be counted at once in public, with domestic ballots expected to be counted between Nov. 6 and Nov. 9 and overseas ballots counted between Nov. 13 and Nov. 18. Local elections officials have 15 days — or until Nov. 18 — to certify their results and send them to Galvin’s Elections Division. Once all results are compiled, the Governor’s Council will make the final certification of results during a public meeting.

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