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Official results in Virginia’s elections will take weeks

Blue drop box
Crixell Matthews
A ballot drop-off box in Henrico County during the 2020 general election. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

With Election Day less than a week away in Virginia, officials at the Department of Elections are hoping to reduce confusion around the vote counting process. Last year’s results were dogged nationally by unfounded allegations of election fraud and poor security. No major issues have been uncovered. 

In the commonwealth, the vote counting process actually takes about two weeks.

That means any projected winners for governor, House of Delegates seats and more are based on data-informed predictions by the media — the state isn’t making any claims until Nov. 15. It also means that a close race could be contested for days or weeks before an official answer is given.

Recent polls for the Governor’s race have the two major-party candidates, Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin, within a couple points of each other.

According to the Virginia Political Access Project and Department of Elections data, almost 800,000 Virginians had already voted early as of Tuesday. That’s over four times as many early votes as were received in the 2017 governor’s race, but far less than the nearly 3 million received in time for the 2020 presidential election.

One change officials say could help speed up the counting process is aimed at early voting. In the week before election day, registrars and local election officials are required to begin pre-processing votes due to a new law.

“That means that absentee by mail ballots should be tabulated very shortly after... the polls have closed on election night,” Election Commissioner Chris Piper told press. Absentee votes greatly delayed the counting effort in Richmond city last year when the registrar’s office was hit by a COVID-19 outbreak after the election.

The week-long pre-processing requirement also helps registrars notify voters if their ballot is ineligible for some reason. For instance, a voter may have forgotten to get a witness signature on their ballot — something that wasn’t required during Virginia’s COVID-19 state of emergency. Voters can rectify ballot errors before noon on Friday, Nov. 5 to get their vote counted.

Again, results won’t be considered official until weeks later. And more mail-in absentee ballots will be counted in the following days — as long as they’re postmarked by election day and make it to the registrar’s office by noon on Friday, Nov. 5, they’ll be counted.

Once all the votes are in, local election boards have until the Tuesday after election day to run a canvas of results in their regions. Once those are verified, the data is kicked up to the state board, which has a week to finish certifying results.

After the election, the Department of Elections will run a routine evaluation, seeking to uncover any issues in vote casting or counting.

Officials are urging Virginians to make a plan to vote, and they say the first step is checking your voter registration and polling place on the elections website. Precincts can change, such as one Chesterfield voting location that was adjusted this summer.

Patrick Larsen is VPM News' environment and energy reporter, and fill-in host.