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What To Expect On Election Day

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And when I say Election Day, it has really, of course, been election days. Americans have been casting ballots for weeks now, more than 100 million of them. Today is the culmination of all those weeks, all those votes. To mark the day on the program, we are going to take you to swing states like Michigan and Florida. We're going to let you hear from the presidential campaigns and poll workers. What you won't hear - what you probably want to hear more than anything, I know - but what you are not going to hear in these early hours of the evening are election results.

WENDY WEISER: This year, it might very well be the case that in many states, we don't even know who the winners are for days after Election Day.

KELLY: Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. She points out the unofficial results on election nights that you've heard on the news in the past would've come from in-person voting. Ballots cast by mail take longer to process and to count.

DAVID SCOTT: The last seven elections, we've been able to call a winner on election night or by midnight on the East Coast four times. Three times we had to wait for later. The earliest was in 1996 at 9 p.m.

KELLY: David Scott is deputy managing editor at the Associated Press. It's one of the most reputable news organizations out there when it comes to calling election results. They have been doing it for every presidential election since 1848. NPR relies on the AP in our own coverage. We do not declare a winner until they do.

SCOTT: Just because we don't know by the time we go to bed or by the time the late local news is on doesn't mean anything's wrong. It's not a sign of fraud or malfeasance. It's probably an unfair expectation that we would always know on Election Day before the pandemic. And I think it's certainly an unfair expectation now, especially with just this huge boom of advanced votes. It's just democracy at work.

KELLY: So when will we be able to tell you who's the next president of the United States? We don't know exactly when those results will come in. When they do, know that we are on it, and you will be the first to know. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.