Following Election Day, Some States Still Counting Votes

By Michelle Austein
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – Even though Election Day is over in the United States, it could be several days or weeks until all the winners officially are declared.

In the November 7 midterm elections, Americans elected all 435 members of the House of Representatives and 33 of the Senate’s 100 members. Americans also elected 36 state governors and the governors of two territories.

News outlets, utilizing both exit polls of voters after they had cast their official ballots and the actual votes cast at precincts, projected winners in almost all races.

Even in the races where winners have been projected and the losers have conceded, states must certify the results to make them official, which in many instances takes several weeks. Each state sets its own guidelines for certifying results. Voting is managed by each of the states and territories.

As of midday November 8, there were about a dozen House races and one Senate race that were “too close to call” - meaning no winners have been projected because the number of votes separating the two candidates was too slim to predict who will win once every vote is counted and the results certified.

Because most states accept “absentee” ballots mailed on or before Election Day, it could be a few days before all ballots are received. Some states already have counted most of their absentee ballots, while others states have yet to do so. Additionally, many states have not yet counted provisional ballots, which are cast by voters whose eligibility to vote is unclear on Election Day. Before these ballots can be counted, the voters must be deemed eligible.

Additionally, each state has its own laws governing the manner in which votes are cast, counted and, if necessary, recounted. Some states automatically require votes to be recounted in races where the number of votes separating the two candidates falls below a certain percentage of the total number of votes cast.

Among the races too close to call as of November 8 was the Virginia Senate election. Democrat James Webb was leading Republican incumbent George Allen by a very slim margin out of the more than 2.37 million votes cast in that state, according to the Virginia State Board of Elections.

Virginia law does not require a recount, though the losing candidate can request one if the difference between the candidates is 1 percent or less of the total votes cast for the candidates. The losing candidate cannot request a recount until Virginia’s Board of Elections meets to certify the vote on November 27. The losing candidate has 10 days following the certification to file a request for a recount

The Virginia Senate race is receiving much attention because the winner of that race determines which political party will control the Senate. If Webb wins, the Democrats will have a one-seat majority. If Allen wins, the Republicans, with Vice President Cheney who can cast tie-breaking votes in the Senate, will maintain control of the chamber.

For more information, see 2006 Midterm Elections.