How to navigate between the 'red' and 'blue mirage' on Election Day

A large volume of mail-in ballots could change America’s way of vote counting and reporting

US President Donald Trump takes off his face mask as he comes out on a White House balcony to speak to supporters gathered on the South Lawn for a campaign rally at the White House. October 10, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS//TOM BRENNER)
US President Donald Trump takes off his face mask as he comes out on a White House balcony to speak to supporters gathered on the South Lawn for a campaign rally at the White House. October 10, 2020.
(photo credit: REUTERS//TOM BRENNER)
American voters cannot wait for the presidential election to be over. The problem is that there is no guarantee we will know who the winner will be on election night.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a significant share of voters in this year’s election cycle is mailing their ballots. And given the extra time it requires to process the mail-in votes, the process is expected to take up to a week.
While we could probably know who won in many of the “red” and the “blue” states shortly after the polls are closed, both candidates will wait to get the results from the critical battleground states that are considered competitive.
The 10 key swing states are Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Nebraska’s second district, Ohio, North Carolina, Georgia, Iowa and Texas.
Florida is the only swing state expected to report nearly all results on election night. It processes mail-in ballots even before Election Day, unlike other swing states, such as in the Midwest.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson last month said in a press conference she expects to have results by Friday – three days after Election Day. With 16 electoral votes, Michigan is a crucial state for both candidates.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last month told CBS’s Face The Nation the state will announce results, “but we are not going to have artificial deadlines set by people with political agendas.”
“We’re going to get this right,” she said. “It will be soon after polls close. I’m not going to put a number on it, but we’re going to get it right.”
Another state that could report its results later this week is Pennsylvania, which has 20 electoral votes. According to the US Elections Project, more than three million voters have requested a mail-in ballot, and 2.3 million have already sent them in.
The counting of mail-in ballots can only commence on Election Day at 7 a.m., and it might take a few days to complete. According to a report by NBC News, seven out of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties will wait to count mail-in ballots until the day after the election, which could cause an additional delay.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said the surge of mail-in voting would affect the process.
“And we probably won’t know the results on election night, so all of us are going to have to be patient,” NBC10 Philadelphia quoted him as saying.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said he expects the results to be announced by November 4, the Savannah Morning News reported.
“I believe that some will be [known] late Tuesday night, and then Wednesday we’ll have most of the races determined – much sooner than some of the other states,” he said.
BUT OTHER than the delay in receiving the final results for each state, another challenge the experts are discussing is the possibility of “blue mirage” or “red mirage,” when early results might paint a different picture than the final results.
The states that count mail-in votes before Election Day are likely to give Biden an early lead, since opinion polls and early voting data suggest those ballots favor the Democrat. Conversely, the states that do not tally mail-in votes until November 3 will likely swing initially for Trump.
These so-called “red” or “blue” mirages will disappear as more ballots are counted. Experts say it may take days or even weeks to process the huge number of mail-in ballots, spurred by voters seeking to avoid crowded polling stations because of the coronavirus pandemic.
North Carolina, for example, is expected to report early voting results first, which will likely lean toward Biden. In contrast, in-person voting results, which are likely to lean toward Trump, will be reported later that night. The same goes for an additional battleground state: Ohio.
In Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, mail-in ballots cannot be counted until Election Day. While Michigan recently passed a law that allows many cities to start processing mail-in ballots the day before the election, such as by opening ballot envelopes, officials cannot begin to actually count votes.
Because mail-in ballots typically take longer to count than ballots cast in person, the initial results could skew Republican. Then, some experts say, we should expect a “blue shift” as election officials wade through the piles of mail-in ballots.
Pennsylvania and Wisconsin may be slowed by their lack of experience with high volumes of mail-in ballots. About one in 20 votes in the two states was cast by mail in the 2018 congressional election, compared with a quarter of Michigan’s votes and about a third of Florida’s.
In Arizona, the first batch of election results will be available after 8:00 p.m. local time on election night, according to the state’s website. And since the state allows for the counting of mail-in ballots before Election Day, these first results are expected to lean toward the Democrats.
“After that, the results are updated sporadically as the counties receive data from the polling locations,” the state’s website says.
Arizona officials said they hope it will take less time to count ballots this year, as Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, has upgraded its equipment and added an extra week to handle early mail-in ballots. But if the race is close, it could still take days to fully count the votes.
That would be “an indication of things going the way they’re supposed to,” C. Murphy Hebert, a spokeswoman for the Arizona secretary of state, told Reuters. “The process is complex, and we would just invite folks to be patient.”