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States Want to Count the Votes Faster in 2024

One of the (many) problems with the 2020 election was the slow vote counting. Specifically, many states required that absentee ballots be stored unopened until Election Day. The consequence was that in-person Election Day ballots, which skewed Republican (because Republicans like to vote in person on Election Day) were reported first. Thus initial reports on Election Night showed Republicans with big leads in many races. In the days after Election Day, the absentee ballots, which skewed Democratic, were reported and the Republican leads melted away and sometimes disappeared. This led many people to think Democrats were furiously making up fake votes after the election.

Officials in a number of states really want to prevent this from happening in 2024. One remedy is to allow preprocessing of absentee ballots before Election Day. This means verifying the signature on the envelope and if valid, removing the ballot from the envelope and putting it in a pile. On Election morning, the piles can be inserted into the vote-counting machines so the absentee ballots can all be counted by the afternoon. Michigan will allow preprocessing to begin a week before the election. Wisconsin may start the process one day before it. Officials had requested more time, but the legislature refused. Still, many ballots can be prepped the day before the election.

Some states have passed laws requiring the state to announce at midnight on Election Evening how many ballots have not yet been counted. Then the networks will be saying things like: "With 35% of the ballots counted, Smith is leading Jones [X]% to [Y]%." The reporter might even emphasize that with so many ballots still uncounted, it is far from over.

Although 40 states will allow some preprocessing of early ballots before Election Day, one state where the legislature refuses to budge is Pennsylvania. Why? Because Republicans don't want it.

No state issues an official tally on Election Night because every state allows overseas and military ballots to be counted if they are postmarked on or before Election Day and arrive within a certain number of days after Election Day. In a close election, a few thousand overseas and military ballots could determine the winner. An official tally is not possible until after that deadline has passed. In some states, such as Nevada, even domestic ballots mailed and postmarked on Election Day are valid. Obviously, ballots mailed on Election Day can't be preprocessed.

One change that election officials are expecting is that in 2024, many more people will vote in person before Election Day rather than by absentee ballot as they did during the pandemic. Votes cast early in person are usually counted in real time. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger expects that 65% of Georgia voters will vote early and in person in 2024, and all those votes will be tabulated before the polls open on Election Day.

Another change that some states are making is buying more machines and trying to hire more staff. This will help avoid situations in which thousands of people are still in line when the polls close. If people are still voting at 10 p.m., obviously their votes can't be reported at 10 p.m. All in all, officials are hoping for a smoother process than in 2020. (V)

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