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Tabulating Results Past Election Night Is Normal

All the votes need to be counted, and it’s not unusual for different batches of ballots to suggest very different potential outcomes that can influence short-term sentiment.

We didn’t see a clear presidential winner on election day this year. That doesn’t mean the U.S. political system or processes are broken--rather that the high volume of mail-in ballots might make it difficult to tabulate the results as quickly and exit polling will not be nearly as useful.

Final tallies could change a lot after election day. For example, on election night in 2018, California had not counted millions of ballots, and as they came in, the composition of Congress changed considerably. This is normal.

Here’s What You Can Expect:

  • The United States does not have a national election commission, but most of the time, the media gets the projection right.
  • The final results are certified by the state election commissions or secretaries of state, usually several days after the end of voting.
  • This year, be aware that the traditional media will likely be very cautious about making any forecasts.
  • Social media may fill the void, but remember to be discerning about what you see there. Seek out trusted sources of information.
  • The noise around counting votes will likely persist over the coming days. Many states will continue processing mail-in votes. Some states, like North Carolina, accept and count ballots through Nov. 12 that were postmarked by Nov. 3.

Not a Typical Election, But Not Unprecedented Either Because of the volume of mail-in votes, we expect there might be new concerns raised about the certainty of a result. Each state has its own protocol for counting ballots and for ordering a recount if results are close. All the votes need to be counted, and it's not unusual for different batches of ballots to suggest very different potential outcomes that can influence short term sentiment.

It’s important to remember that processing and counting mail-in votes after the polls close are part of every election cycle. For some states, like Oregon, which sends every registered voter a ballot in the mail, it’s a routine part of ballot counting.

With two exceptions--1876 and 2000--U.S. elections have had a clear winner relatively quickly, and that could also happen this time. If recounts are required, or results in a particular state are challenged in court, we will be ready to explain the process and milestones for investors. Ultimately, there are processes for the states and Congress to decide the next president by Jan. 20.

The Supreme Court does not typically review elections, as it is not the election certifying body of the U.S.

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Aron Szapiro

Head of Government Affairs
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Aron Szapiro is head of retirement studies and public policy for Morningstar. Szapiro is responsible for developing research reports on policy matters, coordinating official responses to regulatory proposals, and providing investor-focused comments on policy issues to clients and the press. He also chairs Morningstar’s Public Policy Council. Szapiro also heads the Morningstar Center for Retirement Studies. His research has been covered in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Journal of Retirement, and on National Public Radio.

Before assuming his current role in June 2021, he served as Morningstar’s head of policy research and as policy and finance expert at HelloWallet, a former subsidiary of Morningstar. Previously, he was a senior analyst at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), specializing in retirement security issues and pension plan policy. He also worked at the New Jersey General Assembly Majority Office.

Szapiro holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Grinnell College and a master’s in public policy from Johns Hopkins University.

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