Despite the drama and anticipation leading up to Election Day, an unusually high number of tight races this year means we could drift off to sleep tonight without learning which party controls one or both houses of Congress.
Some states, including some out West, just use slow counting processes, Bonnie Berkowitz reports for the Washington Post. Mail-in ballots are convenient for voters but may delay result tallies. Some jurisdictions also mandate “centralized” counting, which requires ballots to be transported to a designated location. These factors are exacerbated when turnout is high.
Close races are also more likely to trigger contingencies that delay determinations, like provisional ballot-counting, runoffs to win a 50-percent minimum, recounts, and lawsuits. And in a large country with a large volume of voters, it’s wise to expect the unexpected:
“There’s always going to be one place at least that just has a bad day,” [elections consultant Doug] Chapin said. “There are so many ballots being counted in so many jurisdictions in so many different ways, that something is going to go wrong. Even if nobody does anything wrong, something is going to go wrong.”
That may lead courts to order that polling places be kept open later, which slows counting on top of the original problem.
Vox‘s Andrew Prokop explains that the Senate, in which Republicans are projected to retain their majority, is more likely than the House to be swayed by a single race and remain in doubt going into Wednesday – especially if Democrats win unexpectedly in North Dakota, Tennessee, and/or Texas.
Graphic from fivethirtyeight.com.