Dennis Lyons

Most people probably understand that it’s possible — maybe even likely — that we won’t know who won the White House on the night of Nov. 3 or even in the early hours of Nov. 4.

There will be partial results being reported for sure — by us locally from the election headquarters in Montour, Northumberland, Snyder and Union counties — and by the Associated Press and other media outlets state-by-state.

Some election analysts still think we may know before we go to bed Tuesday night, or at least when we wake up in the morning. I wouldn’t bet the ranch on that.

Sally Buzbee, the senior vice president and executive editor of The Associated Press, the news service many media organizations, including us, depend on for national results, has said her team is prepared for the fact that it could go much longer than election night.

USA TODAY reported last week that final results here in swing states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan “could be unclear on election night because these states are expected to be the three slowest to count the high volume of absentee ballots.” 

Obviously, this being the first year that any Pennsylvania voter can vote by mail presents a big unknown.

So does the pandemic, which has brought a larger increase in mail-in ballot requests than Harrisburg lawmakers could have ever anticipated when they voted to allow broader mail-in voting last year.

Since Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican-led Legislature failed to get together on a proposal to allow pre-canvassing (sorting) of the ballots to begin until Election Day, the process won’t get the jump start it might have.

Let’s get one recent misconception out of the way. Last Monday, President Trump tweeted that we “Must have final total on November 3rd.”

The fact is there is no law that says the vote must be finalized by Election Day. 

As the Pew Research Center recently reported, we’ve gotten used to election nights “coming off like a well-produced game show, with the big reveal coming before bedtime.”

Those reveals, with a few exceptions like the 2000 Bush-Gore race, have been accurate, but never official.

In 2016, the election was “called” for Donald Trump at about 2:30 a.m., after his victory in Wisconsin became clear and put him over the 270 electoral votes needed.

The actual counting of all the votes took much longer — more than a month.  

This time around, according to the New York Times, only eight states expect to have at least 98 percent of unofficial results reported by noon the day after the election. Twenty-two states — including Pennsylvania will allow postmarked ballots to arrive after Election Day.

The larger concern than knowing the winner quickly, of course, is acceptance of the result whenever it becomes known.

Joe Biden has said he will accept the result but, of course, obviously wants every vote counted.

President Trump has never said he would accept a result if he doesn’t win. He has said if he loses it will be because the election was “rigged.” He has suggested it could end up in the Supreme Court.

Hopefully, the winner will be clear soon enough and that bridge won’t ever have to be crossed.

We will, of course, continually update results online as long as it takes. Plus, we have extended our deadline from the normal midnight to 1 a.m. for the Wednesday, Nov. 4 print edition.

But cards on the table, I’ll be surprised if that morning paper reports a clear winner. 

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