When the polls for the 2022 US midterms close on November 8, Americans need to brace for a long wait for the results to come out, as it takes days and even weeks in some cases for results.

The delay happens because the process of counting ballots takes up a long time as it is a long and tedious process. Broadly, there are two reasons why it is that way.

First, the US constitution left the logistics of voting to the state lawmakers, and as a result, the “Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections of Senators and Representatives” varies with different states.

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Second, the US electoral system incorporates a high level of discretion in the vote-counting process. Several layers of review, verification, and fixing mishandled ballots underscore it.

Let’s take a detailed look at each.

Different rules in different states

The US does not have a uniform process for conducting elections. The decision is left to the state lawmakers to determine what will work best for the residents. On top of that, when the lawmakers consider that the residents are divided into city dwellers, small-towners, and rural voters, it becomes even more complicated.

The physical ballots are relatively easy to count, but the process before the counting begins is quite exhaustive. First, the machine has to be secured and then it has to be taken to the local election offices where they are opened. It is a long process and takes up a long time. 

When counting mail ballots, most states allow polling officers to open ballots to confirm voter’s eligibility before the election day. States like Florida, Texas, and Ohio fall in that category, along with nearly half of all the states in the US. 

For minority states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, polling officials are prohibited from opening mail ballots before election day. As a result, counting in these states may go on for two-three days after the polls close. 

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Review, verification, and fixing

The counting process is not a smooth operation when all the votes are gathered at the election offices. Before each vote is counted, it is subjected to a rigorous vetting process under a set of rules that each counting officer has to follow. 

This vetting process where ballots are reviewed for possible issues is called canvassing. In some states, when there is an error, the officials are required to fix it. In cases such as voters forgetting to sign the ballot envelope, the officials in some states are required to get the voter to the election office to fix it. 

Only when this entire process is complete, the officials are able to certify the results and they are considered as final.