It’s days since the polls closed but it feels like we’re no closer to knowing who will be the US president – so what’s taking so long?
Well since you asked, it’s a perfect storm of an underperforming postal service, false allegations of voter fraud, different closing dates, burst water mains and in an exceptionally basic turn of events, printers running out of ink.
It’s not unusual for many states to take days to finish counting ballots – after all, every vote must be counted and it’s vital that incomplete or misleading results are not announced prematurely.
This is because the presidential election is really 50 different statewide elections, each of them governed by state laws which say different things about how the vote should be counted. Federal law requires all votes to be tabulated by mid-December.
Covid-19, which has killed more than 230,000 people in the US, also means that huge numbers of people avoided casting their votes in person and instead voted by mail, elongating the time taken to process, count and tally said votes.
Blame it on the post
There has been an unprecedented wave of early voting, with Reuters reporting more than 100 million ballots were cast before election day, a new record.
Sounds encouraging. But in a court filing on Friday, the United States Postal Service (USPS) said 1,076 ballots had been found at the USPS Philadelphia Processing and Distribution Centre. About 300 were found at the Pittsburgh processing centre, 266 at a Lehigh Valley facility and others found at other Pennsylvania processing centres. Nevada voters have more time to return their ballots, which are not due until November 10 if postmarked by Election Day.
There are roughly 20 states that allow postal votes that arrive after November 3 to be accepted, as long as they were postmarked on or before election day.
But many of the legal challenges centre on whether these ballots that arrive in the days after polls close should be counted.
The Supreme Court upheld a decision to allow postal votes that arrive up to three days after the election to be counted in Pennsylvania.
However, the ruling, which was a result of a 4-4 tie, came prior to Trump’s appointment of justice Amy Coney Barrett and left open the possibility of revisiting the decision.
State governor Tom Wolf said on Wednesday morning that Pennsylvania had more than one million postal ballots still to count.
Whether postal votes in North Carolina that arrive after election day should be counted was also subject to a challenge in the Supreme Court and ultimately allowed by the justices.
As postal votes have largely favoured Biden across the US, these votes could help him win the state and its 15 Electoral College votes.
But in Wisconsin, postal votes must have arrived by November 3 to be counted following a decision by the Supreme Court.
Minnesota, which has already declared a victory and 10 Electoral College seats for Biden, will segregate late-arriving ballots due to ongoing proceedings.
Last month, the discovery of four dozen mail-in ballots found undelivered at a post office in Florida, prompted an investigation, with election officials variously processing those votes or contacting the voters in question to ensure they were able to access replacement ballots.
Throughout autumn as ballots moved through the postal system, the USPS has consistently missed its goal to have more than 95% of first-class mail delivered within five days. In the week that ended October 16, the most recently available weekly figures, the postal service reported a national on-time delivery rate of 85.5%. Postal districts in many presidential battleground states failed to reach even that mark.
More random glitches
In Fulton County, Georgia, at the State Farm Arena polling centre in downtown Atlanta, a burst water pipe delayed the vote count by at least two hours.
Wisconsin’s Green Bay district say the counting of absentee ballots delayed as the vote-counting machine ran out of ink – prompting an election official to rush to the nearest office supplies shop to for replenishments.