Politics

Here's when key states will start counting election 2020 ballots

Key Points
  • Record numbers of voters have already cast their ballots in the 2020 election cycle, whether by mail or in-person absentee.
  • The flood of early votes was widely anticipated amid the coronavirus pandemic.
  • It has raised concerns about how long it will take mail and election systems in key swing states to process and tally all the ballots being sent in.
Election volunteer Nancy Gavney verifies voter and witness signatures on absentee ballots as they are counted at the City Hall during the presidential primary election held amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Beloit, Wisconsin, April 7, 2020.
Daniel Acker | Reuters

Record numbers of voters have already cast their ballots in the 2020 election cycle, whether by mail or in-person absentee.

The flood of early votes — which was widely anticipated amid the coronavirus pandemic — has raised concerns about how long it will take mail and election systems in key states to process and tally all the ballots being sent in.

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In most states, ballot processing precedes ballot counting. Processing can involve steps such as verifying signatures or checking photocopies of identification documents, depending on the state. In some states, processing may include scanning ballots, but not tabulating them until counting can begin.

States that start processing votes earlier may be able to avoid ballot-counting backlog, which could delay final results for days after next Tuesday's election. But some states don't start processing votes until Election Day, including the all-important battlegrounds of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

There are political implications at play. President Donald Trump has loudly condemned the efforts of some state leaders to expand mail-in ballot access due to the pandemic, claiming without evidence that the new rules will cause widespread voter fraud. The Trump campaign has filed lawsuits in multiple states, including Pennsylvania and Nevada, related to their mail-in ballot practices.

Far more Democrats than Republicans have voted by mail so far, according to data from 19 states compiled by the U.S. Elections Project. Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, is beating Trump in national polling averages.

The prospect of mail-in votes being added to states' totals well after Election Day could prompt objections from elected officials, possibly including Trump, if the changes are significant.

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Here's when swing states will start counting their ballots, and other key data:

Arizona

  • Processing: Ballots were mailed starting Oct. 7 and are being processed upon receipt.
  • Counting: Ballots are being counted as of Oct. 20.
  • Deadline: Ballots are being accepted on or before Election Day.

Florida

  • Processing/Counting: Ballots were mailed starting Sept. 24. Officials were then able to start canvassing mail-in ballots, which includes tabulating weeks in advance.
  • Deadline: Ballots are being accepted on or before Election Day.

Georgia

  • Processing: Ballots were mailed starting Sept. 15 and signatures on the outside of envelopes were being processed upon receipt. Starting on Oct. 19, election officials began taking the additional step of opening mail-in ballot envelopes and scanning ballots, but not tabulating them.
  • Counting: Ballots are being tabulated at the close of polls on Election Day.
  • Deadline: Ballots are being accepted until polls close on Election Day at 7 p.m.

Iowa

  • Processing: The mail-in ballot request deadline was Oct. 24. Counties can begin preparing ballots for processing on Saturday, October 31.
  • Counting: Absentee ballots will start being tabulated on Monday, Nov. 2.
  • Deadline: Absentee ballots received after the polls close on Election Day must be postmarked by the day before or earlier. They must be received in the county auditor's office no later than noon on Nov. 9.

Michigan

  • Processing: Absentee ballots will start being processed in some jurisdictions on Monday, Nov. 2. The vast majority will not begin processing ballots until Election Day.
  • Counting: Ballots will start being counted at 7 a.m. on Election Day.
  • Deadline: Ballots will be accepted until 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Minnesota

  • Processing: Ballots are being processed upon receipt.
  • Counting: Election Day at close of polls, 8 p.m.
  • Deadline: Election Day.

Nevada

  • Processing: The absentee ballot request deadline was Oct. 20. Ballots are being processed upon receipt.
  • Counting: Officials started counting absentee ballots on Oct. 19.
  • Deadline: Ballots must be postmarked by Election Day and received no later than Nov. 10.

New Hampshire

  • Processing: Officials started processing absentee ballots on Oct. 29 in some New Hampshire cities and towns, with others beginning Oct. 30, Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.
  • Counting: Ballots will start being counted on Election Day.
  • Deadline: Mail ballots must be received by Election Day.

North Carolina

  • Processing: Officials started processing absentee ballots on Sep. 29.
  • Counting: Ballots will start being tabulated on Election Day.
  • Deadline: Mail ballots must be postmarked by Election Day and received no later than Nov. 12.

Ohio

  • Processing: Officials started processing absentee ballots on Oct. 6.
  • Counting: Ballots will start being counted at 7:30 p.m. on Election Day.
  • Deadline: Mail ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 2 and received no later than Nov. 13.

Pennsylvania

  • Processing: Mail ballots can start being processed on Election Day at 7 a.m.
  • Counting: Ballots can start being counted when polls close on Election Day at 8 pm.
  • Deadline: Absentee or mail-in ballots must be delivered by Election Day at 8 p.m. A Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision to extended the deadline for receiving absentee ballots by three days to Nov. 6 is being challenged by the state's GOP. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to fast track the Republican challenge, but could still ultimately rule in Republicans' favor.

* At least seven Pennsylvania counties plan to hold off on processing or counting their mail ballots until the day after Election Day, NBC News reported Friday.

Texas

  • Processing: In counties with a population of 100,000 or more, officials started processing mail ballots on Oct. 22. Officials in other counties began processing mail ballots on Oct. 30 after polls closed on Oct. 30.
  • Counting: Officials in counties with a population 100,000 or more could begin counting mail ballots after polls closed on Oct. 30. All other counties cannot begin counting mail ballots until polls open on Election Day.
  • Deadline: Absentee ballots must be postmarked by 7 p.m. on Election Day and received no later than 5 p.m. on Nov. 4.

Wisconsin

  • Processing: Officials begin some verification steps upon receipt, including checking ballots against voter lists and looking for any missing signatures or addresses. Envelopes cannot be opened for processing until Election Day at 7 a.m.
  • Counting: Mail ballots can start being counted on Election Day at 7 a.m.
  • Deadline: Mail ballots must be received by Election Day at 8 p.m.