The Slatest

Why It Will Take So Long to Get Results Tonight

Many states don’t even allow mail-in ballots to start being counted until today.

An election worker sorts mail ballots on a white table.
An election worker sorts ballots for the U.S. midterm election in Colorado. Jason Connolly/Getty Images

It’s here! Today is the day we are voting. Yes, some might have already gone in person to early vote, and others have done absentee ballots, but the rest, the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants voters, will show up on Election Day itself to stand in potentially hourslong lines in order to cast their ballots. And perhaps snap a selfie with an “I Voted!” sticker (no shame; I took one too).

A big factor in Tuesday’s midterm elections will be when polls close to the public, which is when election officials can begin the tallying process. Poll times vary across the country and in some states even vary by city and county. Generally, most states close polls in the evening, by 7 or 8 p.m.—though some exceptions apply, like North Dakota, which allows counties to set their own polling hours and can go as late as 9 p.m.

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There are a lot of states with critical races that basically everyone in the country will be watching. These states’ poll closing times and when they’ll begin counting mail-in ballots will both affect the timing of when results can reasonably be expected. It will likely be painfully long! As my colleague Jim Newell reminded us, the races will be close and the polls aren’t perfect, so be patient.

Here’s a roundup of various states’ plans, which help to underscore why:

Alaska (Alaska Standard Time, four hours behind Eastern Standard Time)
Polls open: 7 a.m.
Polls close: 8 p.m.

State Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola just won in August and is now hoping to keep offered in-person early voting on Oct. 24 all the way until Nov. 7. Those voting in person on Election Day in Alaska will have until 8 p.m. to get to a polling center.

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Alaska allows anyone to request a mail-in ballot, which can be returned to a ballot drop box until 8 p.m. on Election Day. Ballots postmarked on or before Election Day can be received up to 10 days after Nov. 8 and still be counted.

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When it comes to handling mail-in ballots, election officials in Alaska are allowed to start processing them seven days before Election Day, which usually includes verifying signatures, removing ballots from envelopes and sometimes running ballots through scanners– but vote counting, the act of tallying votes, can’t start until after polls close at 8 p.m. The new ranked choice system means that it might take a bit to get a call.

Colorado (Mountain Standard Time, aka EST minus two hours)
Polls open: 7 a.m.
Polls close: 7 p.m.

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In a state where Republican candidate Joe O’Dea is shaking things up by not sticking to the typical MAGA playbook, Colorado opened up in person early voting Oct. 24, which is available all the way until Election Day. Those voting in person on Election Day have until 7 p.m.

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The state also allows anyone to request a mail-in ballot—and offers ballot drop boxes. All mail ballots must be received by 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Election officials are allowed to begin processing mail-in ballots upon receipt, so the vote counting of those ballots can start 15 days before Election Day. All in all, Colorado could have results in some races by Tuesday night.

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Georgia (EST)
Polls open: 7 a.m.
Polls close: 7 p.m.

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The state made famous by Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker’s numerous abortion allegations began offering in-person early voting Oct. 17 and closed it Nov. 4. Those voting in person on Election Day have until 7 p.m.

Georgia also allows anyone to request a mail-in ballot, but drop boxes for those ballots are available only during the early voting period. Election officials can start verifying signatures on those ballots upon receipt—but any further processing can’t start until 8 a.m. three Mondays before Election Day (translation: Oct. 24). Then comes the vote counting of those ballots, which can start 18 days before Election Day.

Results of Georgia’s primary races could start coming out Tuesday night, since new election laws have been passed that now require election offices to count ballots without stopping until they are done. Mail-in ballot counting is supposed to conclude by 5 p.m. the day after Election Day (bless those poll workers). However, Georgia voting law is unique: If no candidate wins at least a 50 percent majority, the top two finishers will advance to a runoff election in December. So, don’t get your hopes up about getting closure anytime soon here either.

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New Hampshire (EST)
Polls open: varies
Polls close: varies

In the state where Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan is barely fending off her Republican challenger Don Bolduc, voting is a little complicated. The state has varying poll times depending on the city, with polling places generally open to the public between 6 and 11 a.m. and closing at 7 or 8 p.m. The state did not offer in-person early voting this midterm cycle.

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New Hampshire does allow mail-in ballots, but voters must have at least one approved reason. That can be a planned absence from a voter’s city or town, a religious observance, a disability, an illness, or an employment commitment (which includes caregiving). Drop boxes are not available, so voters must return them to a polling place or directly to the County Board of Elections office.

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Election officials won’t begin processing mail ballots until 1 p.m. on Election Day, and vote counting can’t start until after polls close on Tuesday night—all of which pushed the state to earn the title of most difficult state to vote in.

Nevada (Pacific Standard Time, three hours behind EST)
Polls open: 7 a.m.
Polls close: 7 p.m.

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In the state where Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto earned the title of most endangered Democratic incumbent, early voting started Oct. 22 and ran through Nov. 4. For those voting in person on Election Day, they have until 7 p.m.

Nevada is one of a handful of states that mail all registered voters a ballot and allows that ballot to be postmarked on Election Day—so it can be received up to four days post–Election Day. Election officials can begin verifying signatures on mail-in ballots upon receipt, and they can start the vote counting 15 days before Election Day. The state must complete the vote count by the seventh day after the election.

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Translation: Expect the vote tallying to go on well past Tuesday night in Nevada.

New York (EST)
Polls open: 6 a.m.
Polls close: 9 p.m. 

In the last state that Democrats probably ever expected to have to defend their majority, incumbent Gov. Kathy Hochul is fending off her Republican rival, Lee Zeldin, in New York. The state opened up early voting Oct. 29 right up until Nov. 6. Those voting on Election Day will have until 9 p.m.

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New York does allow mail-in ballots, but only if a voter presents an eligible excuse. All mail ballots must be postmarked by Election Day and will be accepted as long as they are received by Nov. 15. Election officials are allowed to start processing mail-in ballots within four days of receipt.

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Oregon (PST, three hours behind EST)
Polls open: varies
Polls close: 8 p.m.

A state that could risk its Democratic iron grip thanks in part to billionaire Nike co-founder Phil Knight’s support of the Republican and independent candidate, Oregon also did not offer in-person early voting this midterm election, so voters will have until 8 p.m. to get to a polling location.

Oregon is one of a few states that mail all registered voters a ballot. Those ballots can be postmarked up until Election Day and can be received up to seven days afterwards. Drop boxes are also offered. Election officials can start processing mail-in ballots upon receipt and start the vote counting on Election Day, before polls close. But since the state offers a generous window for mail ballots to be received, if it’s close it could take some time.

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Pennsylvania (EST)
Polls open: 7 a.m.
Polls close: 8 p.m.

Arguably the pettiest and tightest Senate race in the country, Pennsylvania did offer early voting: Voters could either request a mail-in ballot or go in person to certain voting locations and complete the entire process on the spot. Anyone is allowed to request a mail ballot, and it can be returned at a drop box so long as it’s received by county election offices by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

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After all that, election officials can’t start processing or vote counting any mail ballots until 7 a.m. on Election Day. The state has already warned that the results of some races may not be known on election night.

Wisconsin (Central Time, one hour behind EST)
Polls open: 7 a.m.
Polls close: 8 p.m.

Wisconsin’s close Senate race is between Republican incumbent Ron Johnson and Democrat Mandela Barnes, though the incumbent has recently been pulling away. In-person early voting varied depending on the county, but all early voting polls closed by Nov. 1. Those voting in person on Election Day have until 8 p.m.

The state also allows anyone to request a mail-in ballot, but the Wisconsin Supreme Court in July ruled out drop boxes. Ballots must be returned in person at an election clerk’s office by Election Day. Election officials can’t start processing or vote counting mail ballots until after polls open on Election Day. What’s unique about Wisconsin is that it doesn’t have a statewide system for reporting unofficial results on election night—so state law requires that counties post their own individual, unofficial election night numbers from each polling place. There might be a call earlier on, but the Wisconsin Election Commission says it typically takes weeks for votes to be officially certified.

This is also only a smattering of states! The upshot? Don’t hold your breath.

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