Kuntzman: Election results should be announced one week after the election occurs

Caroline Kuntzman, Staff Columnist

According to data from the American Psychological Association, 68% of adults experienced anxiety related to the recent national election. There was a five day period between Election Day and when the Associated Press declared a winner declared on Saturday. A poll published by USA Today found that over two-thirds of Americans were uncomfortable with waiting for election results. 

While getting the results of an election quickly may provide some voters with peace of mind, fast reporting may not always be ideal. On election night, Donald Trump attempted to prematurely declare victory. His actions were groundless and criticized by media organizations and even some members of his own party, but the fact that he tried to stake the claim at all sets a dangerous precedent for American democracy. 

For this reason, and numerous others, establishing a one-week waiting period in which candidates cannot claim victory nor can states call elections could help protect American democracy. 

Absentee ballots provide a useful resource for a variety of voters. While their popularity has grown in light of the pandemic, they have always been a vital tool for Americans working overseas. Moreover, absentee voting offers an alternative for people with disabilities who may have an inaccessible polling station—though this is not an excuse to not improve accessibility. For students attending college outside of their home state, absentee ballots are important as well. 

In short, absentee ballots will continue to be important even once social distancing ends. In states such as Michigan, which approved access to absentee ballots for all eligible voters without an excuse, absentee voter turnout will likely continue to be high in future elections. 

However, absentee ballots take longer to count than standard ballots, presenting a challenge for states whose policies readily promote their use. States should ensure that all votes are counted before calling elections, including absentee ballots. As such, it is vital that state Boards of Elections have adequate time to count all of the votes. Mandating a one-week waiting period between Election Day and when results are announced would give states time to ensure that they have counted all of the votes, and alleviate the time pressure of the present system.

While some states’ refuse to count absentee ballots received after the election, both Maryland and New York do accept such ballots. Moreover, there are 21 states which allow ballots to be counted as long as they arrive within one day of the election. A one-week waiting period would offer leeway for delayed absentee ballots to arrive at the Boards of Elections and be counted without a winner already having been called. States should not be reporting election results until the true deadline for ballots to be received passes, anyway. 

Implementing a mandated waiting period would also discourage candidates from trying to claim premature victory. Of the first 25 states called by the Associated Press on election night, 14 were for Trump; however, neither candidate obtained enough votes to claim victory until Saturday. Because Trump initially appeared to be winning more states, he tried to claim victory—even though many states were still counting votes. As a result, he has created a dangerous environment where some Americans are accepting Trump’s false claims, refusing to acknowledge Joe Biden’s win as legitimate. Having all states announce their election results at the same time could discourage candidates from attempting to claim victory based on incomplete results. 

Mandating that states wait to report results would also widen the window for Boards of Elections to conduct a recount in the case of extremely close results. Allotting enough time for officials to voluntarily conduct a recount may increase confidence in results and improve Americans’ trust in the election system. 

Elections are an extremely important component of the American political system. Ensuring that results are accurate and that candidates do not prematurely claim victory is critical to protecting American democracy. Implementing a one-week waiting period before states can declare election results and candidates can claim victory would be an effective way to uphold democracy. Further, this waiting period could protect absentee voters, discourage candidates from prematurely declaring success and allow time for voluntary recounts to help reduce the likelihood of mistakes and improve confidence in the American election system.