Forget election night answers: Results may take far longer in many close races

By Julia Wick,
Los Angeles TImes,
March 5, 2024


Forget election night. Election season has been upon us for weeks, and it won’t be over anytime soon.

California’s prodigious adoption of vote-by-mail balloting has done more than fundamentally alter how we engage in the democratic process. The shift has also necessitated a cultural reconfiguration about election night results, and recast the timeline for learning outcomes in many races.

Definitive answers will likely only be clear in the most lopsided of contests by late Tuesday night. And conclusive results could take days or weeks to emerge in some of the tightest races.

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Think of it this way: When a Californian shows up at a vote center and casts a ballot in person, as was once commonplace, all the verification is done up front at the vote center. When that ballot arrives for tabulation, no extra steps are needed.

Each vote-by-mail ballot, however, has to be verified and processed before it can be tabulated, which is significantly more time-consuming. Now imagine hundreds of thousands of these vote-by-mail ballots arriving at once on or just after election day. 

That all-at-once crush of ballots creates what the California Voter Foundation’s Kim Alexander calls “the ‘pig-in-the-python’ phenomenon, where you just have this giant wad of ballots moving through the process.”

“The reason we take so long is we’re verifying all the ballots and making sure only valid ballots are being counted,” Alexander told The Times during the last statewide election. “So it’s a function of election security — the very election security [that] people who criticize slow vote counts are demanding.” (Full Story)