Yesterday—Tuesday, November 3—was Election Day in the United States. Which means that this morning would normally be when we would know who the country's president would be for the next four years. In this case, either Republican candidate and current president Donald Trump or Democratic candidate and former vice president Joe Biden.
But instead, it is Wednesday morning and Americans have no clear result. And the obvious question is, Why not?
The simple answer is that this race is 'too close to call'.
But this phrase is more important—and less simple!—than it might seems at first. And it leads to some even more interesting truths, some about the American voting system, and some about elections in general.
Can't make a call
The last few federal elections in both the United States and Canada have been decided at least by early the next morning. But that was not because every single vote had actually been counted by the morning. Instead, those election results had only been called.
To 'call' the result of an election, experts look at how the voting has gone so far, examine the number of votes that are left to be counted, and decide whether or not there is any chance of things changing. Usually, the results in a particular area are far enough apart that the decision can be made about who won before all of the votes are counted. The experts can 'call' a winner.
But sometimes, as in this election, no candidate has a strong enough lead to eliminate the chance of a comeback by an opponent.
The results are indeed 'too close to call'.
How long does the count take?
So if it is normal to not have all of the votes counted in a federal election before it is over, how long does this process actually take? It can be a while.
In fact, properly counting every vote that has been cast can take days. Even weeks. And technically, each state in America has until December 8 to submit their final results to the federal government.
Why does it take so long?
For starters, there are a lot of votes to count! Well over 100 million votes, in truth! Then there is the fact that Americans are allowed to vote in different ways.
Some votes are collected electronically. Others through paper ballots (the official sheet that a vote is written on) that are hand marked.
Some votes are done in a polling station. Others are sent in by mail—they're known as mail-in ballots. (For more on this stuff, check out this video we made!)
Counting so many—and so many different types of—votes is a long, complex process. Especially since mail-in ballots can actually arrive after Election Day as long as they were postmarked (or received by the post office) by then. And ballots also need to be verified, or confirmed as official, which only adds to the time involved.
Has this kind of delay ever happened before?
Yes. A few times actually, and even pretty recently. In 2000, Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore were locked in a neck-and-neck battle for the presidency. In this case, only the state of Florida was undecided, but both candidates needed to win it to declare victory.
The ballots were counted—and recounted—and even the Supreme Court got involved. In the end, it was found that out of millions of votes cast, Bush had won Florida by just over 500 votes. Gore finally conceded—or accepted defeat—on December 13. That was an amazing 36 days after the election was held.
So is America in for a similarly long ride now?
Maybe. Tensions are high on both sides and officials are asking for everyone to remain calm and let the counters do their jobs. While you wait, let Grover explain what both Trump and Biden need to eventually win this election. Take it away, Grover!