Every Vote Counts

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In this update to her recent post about the meaning of #CountEveryVote for military and overseas voters, Council of State Governments Senior Policy Analyst Casandra Hockenberry reminds us to Keep Calm and Let the Election Officials Count On.

Before the election, I wrote about the age-old myth that military and overseas citizen ballots are only counted if it is a particularly close race. This myth partially stems from how the media often “calls” races on the night of the election, well before all the votes are counted. In many states, these races are “called” long before the election officials receive military and overseas citizen ballots, but these ballots, when received, still become a part of the final certified results.

Election officials count every valid ballot that comes into their possession on or before their state’s deadline. These deadlines are not the same across the country. More than that, these deadlines are often different for military and overseas citizens. Many states allow extra time for ballots from military and overseas citizens to arrive, as long as they’re postmarked on time. The primary reason for this is that global mail transit times vary and are difficult to gauge, and delays are common.

Election officials keep counting well after Election Night ends and the media declares victors. This year, though, all eyes were on states as they counted, and kept counting. While we all shared a few laughs over the Nevada memes, they were hardly the only state still counting. Harris County, Texas, which has one of the nation’s largest military and overseas citizen populations was still counting on November 10.

In California, military and overseas citizen ballots postmarked by Election Day were accepted until November 20 with the counting process still ongoing. (You can read more about state deadlines for military and overseas voters here.)

This made it all the more disheartening to hear calls from people to “stop the count.” I can only assume these calls were from people who aren’t well versed in the minutiae of election administration and didn’t realize that counting takes time and many ballots arriving after Election Day are perfectly legal, valid ballots that must be counted per state law. Not counting them would be a crime. Fortunately, our election officials rose to the challenge, simultaneously educating the public as they continued to count the ballots in an election where both candidates received more votes than any previous presidential candidate.

Not only do your election officials make sure that every vote counts, but they make sure they are counted correctly. In Georgia, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger ordered a hand recount of every ballot in the state to ensure that every vote counted. As a result of that recount, the originally reported results were confirmed and the election was certified. (More on that here.) In Nevada, a post-election audit compares the recorded electronic votes with a paper vote record to ensure no vote switching occurred. (More about the safeguards in place here.)

Election officials are going to count every valid ballot they receive on or before their state’s deadline. They are going to make sure those ballots were counted correctly. And if any irregularities do reveal themselves, they will take corrective action. Far from everyone knows how the process works, but our election officials do. They are professionals. They are experts.

So ahead of the next election, let’s all agree: Keep Calm and Let the Election Officials Count On.

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