The realities of early and postal votes show the US democratic system is at breaking point
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Early votes and votes-by-mail take longer to count, and could leave the US in electoral limbo
Mail-in votes take longer to process and count, so the election may not have a final outcome for weeks after election day - both parties are rumoured to be preparing for post-election legal battles. This puts US democracy in a precarious position.
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It is estimated that 80 million votes will be cast by mail this election, and the facts that these votes take longer to process and some states cannot start counting them until after election day means that an official result may take weeks. Counting postal votes takes longer than regular votes as each vote must have a signature that can be matched with a voter registration. Some states, such as Florida, North Carolina and George can start processing postal votes before election day. Others, including Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin can’t begin counting postal votes until election day. But many states allow postal votes to be received for days after election day. Battleground states North Carolina and Pennsylvania allow mail-in votes until 6th November, whilst Minnesota and Nevada allow them until 10th November, with Ohio even later. California will accept postal votes for weeks after election day if there is evidence they were posted before election day on 3rd November. With record numbers of postal votes being cast this election, it could be weeks or months before official results can be announced. The time between election day and the release of the results could see protests, legal challenges and attempts to declare victory prematurely. With both candidates reportedly setting aside campaign funds for anticipated legal battles, the election could become chaotic and messy.
This possibility has existed in past elections, and results and transitions of power have not been problematic. In 2016, the official results were not released until weeks after election day - the outcome was only known so quickly as Trump won enough states to be declared president. The legal disputes and re-counts after the 2000 election involving George W. Bush, Al Gore and Ralph Nader also highlight that delays in official results can be expected in a close-run election. What is important is the accuracy of the results, not the speed of the count.
Rejecting the premises