Processed vs. Tabulation: How Vote Counts Will Work on Election Night

Oct 30, 2020

Credit NPR

Unlike some other states, Virginia law allows election officials to start processing absentee ballots before Election Day. But, the tabulation of votes won't start until after the polls close.

Every jurisdiction in Virginia is expected to report some percentage of election results the night of the election. But how much is reported and how much is still unknown is, well, unknown. Election Commissioner Chris Piper says look for most of the in-person day-of votes by 11 pm, and some of the central absentee precincts. Those absentee precincts will include all of the mail-in votes plus all the early votes.

"Some localities are way ahead of the game and will be able to finish before 11, no big deal. And so they'll report their initial CAP results before 11," Piper says. "And then there's localities that will still be processing absentee ballots by mail up until 11. What we've told any locality that still has ballots that they're processing is that at 11 o’ clock, you cut it off."

Cut off the counting and focus on reporting absentee numbers that are available at the time. Fairfax County Registrar Gary Scott says there's no way he'll be finished by then.

"It's a guarantee that we will not be finished by 11," he explains. "We will not be getting the material back from the drop boxes back until 9:30 or 10, and those all have to be checked in and verified before we can begin tabulating those."

Voters can bring their mail-in ballots to the drop box at their local precinct on Election Day. In Fairfax County, that’s 243 drop boxes. So that could add thousands of votes. So perhaps the real question is how many voters decide to surrender their absentee ballot so they can vote using a machine rather than using a drop box.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.