The staff of the Cortland County Board of Elections sorted and organized by district piles of absentee ballots in advance of Tuesday’s general election.
Don’t expect clear results Tuesday night. More than 4,600 write-in ballots were requested in Cortland County and many millions across the nation. Of those 4,600 ballots, nearly 3,300 had been returned by Thursday afternoon.
Those ballots won’t be counted until Nov. 10 in New York. Other states have their own rules.
“It is likely when we go to bed Tuesday night, we won’t know who the winner is,” said Robert Spitzer, a political science professor at SUNY Cortland. In fact, America may wait weeks for the final results.
Still, early reporting from key states may give an indication of who will win the presidential election late Tuesday or early Wednesday, Spitzer said.
“The best advice for the public is to sit tight and let local and state boards of elections do their work,” he said. “If the results are close in some states, there will be legal challenges and that will delay the reporting of final results.”
Spitzer noted that George W. Bush was not declared the winner of the 2000 presidential election for weeks.
The ballots filed at polling places on Election Day and during early voting will be checked when the polls close Tuesday in Cortland County and across the state. But absentee ballots delivered in person by Election Day, and those mailed by Election Day will be locked away until Nov. 10.
Democrats have so far returned more than twice as many ballots in Cortland County as Republicans, elections officials said. Of the 2,657 absentee ballots requested by registered Democrats in Cortland County, 1,968 were returned by Thursday, compared with 1,200 Republicans who requested absentee ballots, 793 of them returned; and 824 blanks requesting absentee ballots, 528 of which were returned.
On election day
On Election Day, maintain social distancing, wear a mask and bring your own pens to the polls, Cortland County elections commissioners ask.
If a voter refuses to wear a mask, election officials must empty the room and allow the voter to cast a ballot, and surfaces that person came in contact with must be sanitized before others are allowed to continue voting.
“It disrupts the whole line,” Commissioner Tom Brown said.
Spitzer said early returns on Election Night will likely favor Trump in many states because those will come from in-person voting, where more Republicans will cast their votes, while Democrats are more likely to vote early in person or by absentee ballots, Spitzer said.
With President Donald Trump alleging voter fraud before and throughout his term, Spitzer anticipates similar accusations.
“Trump will claim victory and claim he has won various states and cry fraud when the results come in. That casts a shadow over the process,” Spitzer said.
”“There will certainly be legal challenges,” he said. “Both parties have legal teams at the ready.”
Beginning about 9 a.m. Nov. 10, at least a dozen employees of the Cortland County Board of Elections will begin feeding absentee ballots into an electronic scanner that can process up to 4,000 ballots an hour.
Robert Howe, the county’s Republican elections commissioner, said the machine will provide a list of absentee ballots that are questionable. Howe and Democrat Election Commissioner Thomas Brown will review those ballots to determine the intent of the voter, Where they agree, the ballot will be counted. Those that are inconclusive will not be counted and the voter will be notified.
It may take a few days to complete the count, Brown said.“We want to count them as quickly as we can but be accurate.”
How states deal with absentee ballots varies by state, Spitzer said. Some states can start counting before Election Day.
This is also the first presidential election in which early voting has been allowed in New York. As of Wednesday, an average of 542 people had voted in person at the Board of Elections on each of the first five days of voting, which continues through Sunday.
The number of registered voters also has increased since the 2016 election, to 30,995 compared to more than 27,000 four years ago.
Complicating the job of elections officials is a rule established this year that gives the county 48 hours after election day to confirm the validity of affidavit ballots, cast at the polls when there is a question of whether someone was eligible to vote.
“It’s been stressful, all these changes,” Brown said. “But for the most part, everything has been going smoothly.”