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US Election Results 2020: How the US counts its votes, and why it’s taking so long

US Election 2020 Results: A look at how the world's oldest democracy counts its votes, and the reason behind the delay in the results.

Written by Om Marathe , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: November 7, 2020 12:39:34 pm
us election, us election results, us presidential election results 2020, us presidential election result, us poll results, donald trump, joe bidenA man carries the American flag as he places candles on the words "Count Every Vote" marked in chalk on the pavement during a rally at Dallas City Hall to demand all votes be counted as the outcome of the presidential race nears on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, in Dallas. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

As the US election verdict remains inconclusive with key swing states still individually counting votes, we take a look at how the world’s oldest democracy counts their votes, and the reason behind the delay in the results.

So, how are elections supervised in the US?

In the US, all elections — federal, state, and local — are directly organised by the ruling governments of individual states. According to the White House website, the US Constitution and laws grant the states wide latitude in how they administer elections, resulting in varying rules across the country.

In many US states, the responsibility of conducting elections falls on the state’s secretary of state — a politician who in some states is directly elected and in others appointed by the state governor.

How is the election process different from India?

In India, the Constitution under Article 324 provides for a separate rule-making Election Commission that is independent of the executive in government. Set up in 1950, it is charged with the responsibility of conducting polls to the offices of the President and Vice President of India, to Parliament, and to the state Assemblies and Legislative Councils.

In India, the ECI has been devised as an apolitical body — a key priority of the country’s founding leaders. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, while introducing Article 324 in the Constituent Assembly on June 15, 1949, said, “the whole election machinery should be in the hands of a Central Election Commission, which alone would be entitled to issue directives to returning officers, polling officers and others”.

So, US states vary widely when it comes to key electoral practices such as vote counting, postal voting and drawing constituencies. Often, individual states are accused of providing an unfair advantage to one political party through practices such as gerrymandering. During the Jim Crow era (late 19th century-early 20th century), states in the American South actively disenfranchised Black people– a practice that was largely curbed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

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Why counting votes in Election 2020 is taking time

Although most US states allow electronic methods, paper ballots are the norm across the country. Ahead of counting comes a stage called processing, which involves checking signatures, verifying documentation, and perhaps even scanning the ballots. Counting votes is a separate, and later, process.

Each state has its own date for starting in-person or mail-in voting, deadline for receiving the mail-in ballots, processing the ballots, and tabulating votes. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram

To take two examples: In Arizona, mailing of ballots started on October 7, accepted until Election Day, and counting has been on since October 20; in Ohio, processing started on October 6, mail-in ballots can be received up to November 13 but they must be postmarked by November 2, and counting started on November 3.

As counting entered its third day in the United States, Indians on social media expressed their admiration for the Election Commission of India, attempting to draw a comparison between the two nations although the processes are quite different.

Former Union minister Milind Deora tweeted, saying: “We Indians should be proud of our Election Commission for overseeing 650 parties, 8,000 candidates & 603 million voters in 2019!”

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