This will be an election night unlike any other in modern history.
Complete vote counts in races for state legislatures, Congress and president will not be complete for days, given the record volume of mail balloting and the differing deadlines states impose for tabulating results. The rules governing the voting process are up to the states, including for the election of Congress and the president, per section 4 of Article I of the U.S. Constitution.
In some races, including for president, we may not have a good sense of who won and who lost for days.
So what will you know on election night? And what should you expect from LNP | LancasterOnline?
Here are answers to some of the questions we’ve been hearing from you in recent days.
Will all the votes be counted on Election Day?
No, but most will be — at least in Lancaster County. The top election official here, Randall Wenger, said all in-person votes in the county will be counted on Election Day and reported to the public, likely by about 11:30 that night. In addition, most of the nearly 110,000 mail ballots issued in the county will have been counted and reported publicly that evening, too. So we’ll have some idea of how Lancaster County voted in races for Legislature, Congress and president at the local level.
The pace of vote counting across the country is uncertain because of the multitude of vote counting practices.
Will we actually know who won on election night?
It depends on the office. There are many races for the Legislature in Lancaster County that are not terribly competitive because one party — the GOP in many of the suburbs and the Democratic Party in Lancaster city — holds a substantial voter registration advantage. The same goes for the 11th Congressional District race between Republican U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker and Democratic challenger Sarah Hammond, which is considered a safe seat for Republicans.
If candidates in those races run up margins that are statistically insurmountable, they may be declared winners before the remainder of mail ballots are counted.
A few words of caution: Mail ballots that arrive back at the Lancaster County elections office after this weekend won’t be counted until after Election Day. And because more Democratic voters than Republican voters here obtained mail ballots, the early results might skew in favor of Republican candidates.
It’s unlikely there will be wild swings in the results from Election Day to the end of the week. But some close races might not be determined until every last mail ballot is counted.
Why won’t we know which statewide candidates carried Pennsylvania on Election Day?
More than half a dozen counties won’t begin counting mail ballots until Wednesday. The delayed start will complicate efforts to determine the statewide winners and losers, including in the race for president.
Does LNP | LancasterOnline declare, or “call,” winners?
No. Our reporters and editors do not “call” winners or losers in elections. Instead, we rely on election analysts and researchers with The Associated Press, a news cooperative of which LNP | Lancaster is a member, to determine whether candidates for office no longer have a statistical path to victory. The AP expects to declare winners in more than 7,000 races across the nation — including every seat in every state legislature.
AP’s team uses great care in making its calls. “AP does not make projections or name apparent or likely winners. If our race callers cannot definitively say a candidate has won, we do not engage in speculation,” the wire service says. “Only when AP is fully confident a race has been won — defined most simply as the moment a trailing candidate no longer has a path to victory — will we make a call.”
Yeah, but what about the presidential race? When will we know whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden carried Pennsylvania?
It’s anybody’s guess in the Keystone State. And it depends on whether mail ballots that arrive back in county offices after Election Day are ultimately counted or not. That’s up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
If, however, one of the candidates emerges as the clear winner in enough other states to collect 270 electoral votes — the magic number to get to the White House — Pennsylvania becomes moot.
Does LNP | LancasterOnline observe the vote count?
Yes. A veteran journalist on staff, Jed Kensinger, has monitored the vote tabulation process and collected Lancaster County’s real-time results for this news organization and the AP for more than a quarter century.
“I watch from the sidelines as the first judge of elections hand-delivers the electronic data card containing his or her precinct results, along with supporting paper documentation, to the county, and I remain there until after the last precinct judge shows up with the results,” Kensinger said.
“If the county has issues posting numbers or there are delays in precincts reporting, I question election officials and then relay that information to LNP | LancasterOnline reporters and editors who are writing election stories. I provide The Associated Press with the same information.”
How will you report on the results?
Our team of reporters will tell you what they know as soon as they know it throughout Election Day, the evening and throughout the week. LancasterOnline will carry up-to-the-minute election results in every race and every one of the 242 precincts across Lancaster County beginning shortly after the polls close at 8 p.m.
We expect to report on the first batch of results — the tally of all mail ballots returned to the county through last week — shortly after 8 p.m. on Election Day. In-person results will begin flowing into LancasterOnline later in the evening.
Wednesday’s edition of LNP will carry all of that information, as well as reports from across Pennsylvania and the nation.
Tom Murse is the executive editor of LNP | LancasterOnline.