When are unofficial results official?

Inserted in this week’s Saratoga Sun, and available on the Saratoga Sun website, are unofficial election results. This is a service that we have provided to our readers for, at least, the past three election cycles. This year, however, I want to stress the use of the word “unofficial.”

Here in Carbon County, and in the state of Wyoming, we are rather lucky when it comes to our unofficial results on election night. With polls closing at 7 p.m., results are often available on the Secretary of State’s website and on county websites as early as 9 p.m. in many cases. When we at the Saratoga Sun are imbibing caffeine and compiling results around midnight to get this insert laid out and printed, it’s great to have most of our local results ready to go.

Still, all these results are technically unofficial and for good reason. Each county and even the State of Wyoming have to go out and canvass after the election to confirm each vote. With Wyoming being one of 21 states that allow same-day registration at the polls, it is a sure bet that there will be plenty of people who will register that day who may not have registered before. This makes the work that the Carbon County Clerk’s office does especially important.

In addition to the same-day registration, a number of seats in various races either have nobody running or are uncontested. Take, for example, the Town of Medicine Bow which has only one person running for two unexpired terms and two full terms. No doubt there will be write-ins on those ballots and the election canvassers have to reach out to those who had a sufficient number of write-in votes to see if they accept the nominations.

This is exactly what was done in August during the primary election and ALL of the candidates who were written in for Medicine Bow Town Council declined the nominations.

When it comes to the local, county and state races it typically takes about a week for results to be finalized and, in most cases, the numbers aren’t off by much. In past elections, results have been off by a handful of votes at most.

The presidential election, however, is an entirely different beast. While President Donald Trump has stated that all 50 states should have election results by November 3, this has never actually been the case. States across the country have seen an increase in absentee voting and absentee ballots cannot be counted prior to the election. Additionally, there are mail-in ballots that must be counted and include ballots cast by those serving in the Armed Forces.

Even if that weren’t the case and all results were, magically, available on the night of November 3 it would only be for the popular vote. As was proven in 2000 and 2016, the winner of the popular vote isn’t always the one who gets to be President of the United States. Enter the electoral college.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, when you cast your vote for president, you are not actually voting for the president. You are, in fact, casting your vote for the elector that has already been selected by the party of the candidate. So, if you cast your vote for President Donald Trump you are casting your vote for his elector in the electoral college and if you cast your vote for Joe Biden you are casting your vote for his elector. Same thing in the case of the third-party candidates that appeared on Wyoming’s ballots.

So, when do these electoral college results become official? Well, it’s certainly not on November 3.

By December 8, 2020 all recounts and court cases surrounding the presidential election must be resolved. Many may remember the case of Bush v. Gore following the 2000 President Election in which the Florida Supreme Court ordered the recount of all undervotes on December 8. Four days later, on December 12, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of George W. Bush and granted him Florida’s 25 electoral votes.

On December 14, 2020 the electors are to meet in each state and cast their ballot for president. In 48 states, the Electoral College is supposed to vote with the plurality of the popular vote in each state in accordance with the Winner-Take-All system. For example, in Florida, the states, now, 29 electoral votes are to go to either the Republican and Democratic candidate depending on who gets the most votes. That, however, is not always the case. Again, the 2000 and 2016 presidential elections are an example of this.

After the electors meet, all ballots from the Electoral College are to be received by the Senate on December 23, 2020 and the ballots will be counted on January 6, 2021.

So how is it that, in past elections, a winner has been able to be declared on election night? Technology.

A combination of mass communications, computer simulations and exit polling all go into the model used by the Associated Press which provides those results to various news outlets and projects who is the likely winner. 

So, as you read through the unofficial election results that are inserted in this week’s Saratoga Sun, remember that, from local to national races, the results are just that; unofficial. 


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