WASHINGTON - Early voting broke records this year as more than 90 million Americans requested mail-in ballots.
"We should know the result of the election on November 3rd," said President Donald Trump.
But the final numbers are never actually in by midnight Election Day. Political analysts and news networks project winners based on partial counts but this year the race might be too close to call due to the historic number of early votes and mail-in ballots.
"It just takes longer to process, prepare and count absentee ballots then it does ballots cast in a polling place," said The Heritage Foundation's Hans Von Spakovsky.
A candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win and due to a July Supreme Court ruling, states can now require electors vote with the popular vote which means every ballot counts.
"I suspect the most likely kind of post-election litigation is over the rejection of absentee ballots again going back to the New York primary," said Spakovsky. "1 in 5 ballots were rejected by election officials for not complying with state legal requirements, and litigation was filed contesting the rejection of those absentee ballots and I suspect that is the same kind of litigation we might see after the general election."
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Florida and North Carolina have been counting mail-in votes for weeks and are set to release results as soon as polls close but not all mail-in ballots will be counted by the end of election night.
For some states, it could take days, a week, or even longer.
"Counting ballots for two weeks which is totally inappropriate," said Trump. "I don't believe that's by our laws. I don't believe that, but we'll see what happens."
In all 50 states, mail-in votes must be postmarked by Election Day. In 28 days they must also arrive by the time polls close. In the other 22, ballots are counted if they arrive after the election as long as they have a post-mark of November 3rd or before.
Massachusetts, Mississippi, and Maryland do not permit the processing of mailed ballots until after the polls close. Typically mail-in votes take longer to count than ballots cast in person so initial results that indicate either a red or blue wave could be premature.
In 2018, Arizona Republican Martha McSally was leading by more than 14,000 votes election night, then lost to Democrat Krysten Sinema days later after hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots were tallied.
President Trump and Democrat Joe Biden could face a similar situation.