There are important dates to know for the 2020 Election in Ohio. Get to know what those are.
COLUMBUS – After months of mailers, attack ads and text messages reminding everyone to vote, the election in Ohio is nearly over.
However, the wait for who won the presidential election might be just beginning.
The Enquirer breaks down what you need to know about how votes will be counted, when results will be announced and what happens if the race is extremely close.
How will results be reported after the polls close?
Ohioans will be done voting Tuesday, but what happens next? (Photo: Liz Dufour/The Enquirer)
If all goes well (and sometimes it doesn’t), polls will close in Ohio at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
By 8 p.m., county boards must upload vote totals for all absentee ballots – those mailed in and those submitted early in-person.
Ohio can tabulate these results quickly because mailed ballots can be opened and processed before Election Day. Other states, such as Kentucky and Michigan, can’t open their ballots until Election Day.
In Ohio, more populous counties, including Hamilton, Butler, Clermont and Warren counties, will report election results every 15 minutes. Columbus’ Franklin County, Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County and Toledo’s Lucas County are also on that list.
Other county boards of elections will report results every half hour or every hour.
County election officials will also report a new figure: Outstanding ballots (ballots issued but not yet counted). This number will be important if a race is close.
Why do some counties report results slower than others?
“It’s all logistics and luck,” said Aaron Ockerman, executive director of the Ohio Association of Election Officials.
All else equal, urban counties tend to take more time reporting results than rural ones because they have more polling locations and more votes to handle, Ockerman said.
In the past, Democrats have sweated late returns from Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County or Toledo’s Lucas County. When all eyes were on the 12th Congressional District for a special election, Republicans waited on Delaware County results.
If a memory card gets stuck in a voting machine or if traffic snarls near the county board of elections, results will be delayed, Ockerman said. Nothing nefarious is involved; it’s just bad luck.
Rick Smith, precinct executive for the Warren County Board of Elections in Lebanon, manages the line on Oct. 6. (Photo: Liz Dufour/The Enquirer)
How will the Associated Press call races?
Ohio’s final, official vote won’t be tabulated until Nov. 18, but news agencies will almost certainly “call” the races before then.
Most newspapers, including The Enquirer, rely on the Associated Press, a nonprofit news agency founded in 1846, to call key national and statewide races.
National television networks will call races as well. You might see one network call a race before another because they are using slightly different metrics.
Associated Press race callers look at overall vote totals, votes by type of ballot and the number of outstanding uncounted ballots. That last number will be particularly important in 2020 with more people voting via mail.
In the AP’s own words: “All of this reporting and analysis is aimed at determining the answer to a single question: Can the trailing candidates catch the leader? Only when the answer is an unquestionable ‘no’ is the race is ready to be called.”
For countywide races, The Enquirer will look at the margin between the candidates’ vote totals and how many uncounted absentee ballots are outstanding before determining a winner. Some races could be too close to call.
When will we know who won the presidential race in Ohio?
Voting stickers rest in a box at the exit of the Hamilton County Board of Elections early voting facility in Norwood. (Photo: Albert Cesare / The Enquirer)
Ohioans could know who won the presidential race as early as Tuesday or as late as mid-December when the Electoral College meets. (The latter is highly unlikely, thank goodness.)
A candidate could win quickly if he is leading the race by a number of votes greater than the number of uncounted, outstanding ballots – either still in the mail or provisional ballots cast on Election Day that need details checked. Polling suggests Ohio will be much closer than that.
County board of election officials won’t start their final, official count until Nov. 14 and must complete it by 2 p.m. Nov. 18. They can’t start earlier because any ballot mailed by Nov. 2 is counted if it arrives by Nov. 13.
If the final results are within 0.25%, Ohio law requires an automatic recount. That recount would take place before Dec. 8. Even if the race isn’t close, a candidate could request a recount if he foots the bill for it.
Another way the final vote could be delayed is through legal challenges. If a candidate or political party thinks the vote counting wasn’t fair or disenfranchised voters, they could file a lawsuit.
Ohio ultimately needs to know who won the state’s popular vote by Dec. 14 – the day the Electoral College votes for president.
What is the Electoral College and when does it vote?
When you cast your ballot in the United States, you don’t actually vote for president. You vote for electors, who vote for president.
The Electoral College, established in the U.S. Constitution, is comprised of 538 delegates. The total represents the number of U.S. senators: 100 (two per state); the number of U.S. representatives: 435; and three electors for the District of Columbia. A presidential candidate needs a majority to win: 270.
The Electoral College will vote on Dec. 14. Ohio’s electors will vote at the state capitol, per state law.
Ohio has 18 delegates because the state has two senators and 16 representatives. California has the most electors with 55 and seven states have three electors each.
Ohio law requires its 18 electors to cast their ballots for the winner of the state’s popular vote, certified by Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose. Some states fine or replace electors who try to go rogue, but Ohio isn’t one of them.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that states can insist that their Electoral College members support the winner of the states’ popular votes.
Tina Stephens cleans a voting space off after it was used at the Hamilton County Board of Elections early voting facility in Norwood . (Photo: Albert Cesare / The Enquirer)
What happens if a candidate declares victory before all the votes are counted?
Officially, nothing. Each state will count their votes, and the results will determine how the Electoral College picks a president. Congress meets in a joint session to count the electoral votes on Jan. 6, and Inauguration Day is Jan. 20.
Unofficially, it could cause some drama. If one candidate’s supporters don’t trust the official election results, that could lead to confusion, anger and turmoil.
Social media have detailed some safeguards. Twitter announced it would label any tweet with a premature claim of victory and direct people to information about the status of election results. Facebook will reject ads from candidates claiming an early victory and label any posts that claim a premature win.
Public officials are assuring a peaceful transition of power, too. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tweeted: “The winner of the November 3rd election will be inaugurated on January 20th. There will be an orderly transition just as there has been every four years since 1792.”
Hamilton County Board of Election officials count ballots by hand after the ballots were counted by a scanner during a test count of practice ballots at the Hamilton County Board of Elections in Norwood on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. (Photo: Hannah Ruhoff)
How are officials preparing for possible turmoil?
LaRose, Ohio’s election chief, has briefed local law enforcement on their roles in protecting Ohioans’ right to vote without being intimidated or harassed.
Ohio law prohibits anyone from interfering with the conduct of an election by destroying election property or stealing ballots. Anyone who loiters around a polling place to “hinder, delay or interfere with” the election is also violating Ohio law.
“Violence will never be tolerated and will be dealt with immediately,” LaRose told The Enquirer. “In Ohio, everybody should feel safe and secure going to vote and that’s the bottom line.”
Campaigns and candidates cannot approach voters within 100 feet of a polling location’s entrance. That is marked with small American flags. Voters also cannot be disturbed while waiting in line to vote and given 10 feet free of interference.
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