When polls close in Georgia on Tuesday, Nov. 8, election results are expected to come in quicker than before, though tight races heading into the second round mean the finality of who wins is unlikely to be. .
Georgia has more than 2,600 electoral districts spread across 159 counties and an outsized role in national politics. After conspiracies dominated the aftermath of the 2020 vote count, which took several days due to an avalanche of mail-in ballots, the desire for timely results was codified into law in Georgia. sweep Senate Bill 202.
The 98-page Voting Act has made headlines for changes to mail-in voting, expanding voter eligibility challenges and other burning issues, but the bulk of the law includes changes behind-the-scenes election administration for local officials who need a more streamlined and faster election night. communication of results.
Changes to the processing and tabulation of absences before the closing of the polls
Under the new law, counties can start processing mail-in ballots starting two weeks before the election instead of the morning of Election Day. In 2020, well over one million people returned an absentee ballot, and the process of verifying information on the envelope, judging ballots with issues, scanning and reporting results has took several days.
This year, only about 279,000 voters requested an absentee ballot, so fewer ballots and faster processing time should lead to faster reporting of those results. More counties will also begin tabulating mail-in and in-person ballots beginning on Election Day morning, sequestering those ballots and workers so that results are not released until after polls close.
“Instead of having to wait until 7 p.m. on election night for large counties, in particular, to start shutting down and printing the Advanced Vote Scanner tapes that take several minutes to print, they can go ahead and do it. during the day,” Georgia Chief Electoral Officer Blake Evans said at a recent press conference. “Which means by 7 p.m. they should have all of their advance voting results ready to go and be released around 7:30 p.m. or so.”
Election Day votes typically take the second longest to count and report, as poll workers have to close more than 2,000 polling places statewide, remove memory cards from ballot scanners, and bring them back. to the electoral offices where they are compiled.
When will the races be “called?” »
News organizations and election analysts project the winners of the races based on a combination of historical voting patterns, counted results, and the location of the remaining unpublished results. In a state like Georgia, where elections are close and more important, Democratic-heavy counties take longer to report, you probably won’t see reliable sources “calling” big races on election night, even with Georgian legislative changes.
It’s also important to remember that the only official source declaring winners is a county certifying its election results after verifying that the totals are correct.
On election results websites, including the Georgia Secretary of State’s website, election officials also say they remember the context behind the “reporting precincts” numbers, recalling that 100% of precincts reporting ballots vote do not correspond to the declaration of 100% of the ballots cast. Sometimes results change as counties have been known to accidentally double upload results or omit results as the night progresses – but this is not a sign of fraud and is part of the normal reconciliation process and counting.
It’s also possible that one candidate is in the lead, as more rural, densely Republican counties with small populations complete their download process faster than densely populated Democratic strongholds, also a normal part of how the Georgia counts the votes.
It won’t be known until the polls close how many people show up on Election Day or return mail-in ballots. But after in-person early voting ends, it will be known how many people participated using this method, as well as the maximum possible number of mail-in ballots returned (~279,000) since the application deadline passed. Additionally, military and foreign ballots must be received by the Friday after the election and provisional ballots can also be set by then.
More than 2 million people have already voted in Georgia’s midterm elections, which feature close races for governor and the U.S. Senate, among other contests. A recent poll shows incumbent Governor Brian Kemp and Senator Raphael Warnock hovering around the 50% threshold to avoid a runoff, so the outcome of the race is likely to come down to the last ballots counted.
Why counting should be faster
Speaking of counting, Georgia law now requires counties to report the total number of ballots (by mail, in-person, and Election Day) by 10 p.m. on election night to provide the state and the public with the total denominator of votes which should provide better context on what is left to count. Even so, remember that there are military and foreign votes that must be received on the Friday after the election and provisional ballots that can be corrected within the same time frame, so the 10 p.m. is not final.
Election offices are now required to count without stopping until they are finished and must complete the counting of absentee ballots, which usually takes the longest of the three voting methods, by 5 p.m. the following day of the election.
Finally, the new electoral law speeds up the certification period and a second round. Counties must certify the final tally of their election results by the Monday following the election, and then Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger will announce a statewide race to undergo a risk-mitigation audit. After this audit, which confirms that the results are accurate and not the specific totals, Raffensperger will certify the results by November 25.
Previously, Georgia law set the runoff nine weeks after the general election, but SB 202 shortened it to just four. That means any race that doesn’t see a candidate clear 50% on Nov. 8 will see voters head to the polls again on Dec. 6, with a much-abbreviated absentee by mail and early in-person voting period — “as soon as as possible” for local elected officials who also finish counting the general elections.
The bottom line: The new rules should see election results come in faster in Georgia, though the difference between someone winning or going to a runoff could be so close that all the results must be known before a conclusion can be reached. is not known.
This story comes to Reporter/Atlanta Intown Newspapers through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a nonprofit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.