Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) cautioned Twitter followers on Tuesday not to trust in lies that the Republicans Party will likely amplify on election night that election results aren’t valid unless they’re called the same day — a part of their strategy to attack mail-in voting and throw doubt into the election process.
“Many states don’t allow mail-in ballots to be counted before Election Day,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “But many races can’t be called until mail-ins are counted, which can take over 24 [hours]. This is normal, but some GOP are laying ground to claim any race not called tonight is suspicious. Don’t fall for it.”
It is, indeed, normal for ballot counting to take several days after the election, though some races are called the night of due to decisive margins. Because mail-in ballots can be postmarked on Election Day and still be valid, it takes a few days for all of the votes to even be available for election officials to count.
A variety of other factors — late closing times for polls on the West Coast, an increase in mail-in voting, and many particularly close races — mean that this election will be no different in that many races will have to be called later this week. In 2020, eight states didn’t call results of elections until after election night; several states, including crucial swing states, took a week or more.
Republicans are ignoring this reality, however, instead taking the opportunity — as they have with almost every other aspect of the election process — to attack voting and erode public trust in elections.
In recent weeks, Republicans have already been saying that, if vote counting takes several days, then that means that election officials are getting the “fix in” on the election, as Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano baselessly said in October. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) also added to the lie, saying, “Why is it only Democrat blue cities that take ‘days’ to count their votes? The rest of the country manages to get it done on election night.”
Both of these statements are plainly false, and these politicians likely know that. There has been zero evidence of elections being “fixed” in the U.S. — if anything, Republicans are the ones that are working toward rigging all future elections to ensure the party never loses again.
Cruz’s comment, meanwhile, is meant as an attack on Democratic votes and is not true in any sense; even aside from the point that large cities, which lean Democratic, have far more votes to count than less-populated Republican-leaning areas, many Republican counties also take days to count votes.
If election officials stopped counting ballots after Election Day, as Republicans seem to be suggesting, it would leave many votes uncounted, likely particularly affecting mail-in votes. According to the United States Election Project, about 25 million people have returned mail-in ballots as of Tuesday, with a total of over 58 million mail-in ballots requested across the country. If even a fraction of the mail-in ballots that have been returned or will be postmarked on Election Day arrive later this week, that would amount to millions of ballots that wouldn’t be counted at all.
On the flip side, if election officials simply called elections on election night while disregarding other votes that may come in, it could give Republicans an undue advantage. In 2020, for instance, early vote counts created a perception that Republicans were ahead — a phenomenon that political commentators dubbed a “red mirage” followed by a “blue shift.”
This could happen in Pennsylvania, for instance. Democratic-leaning Philadelphia typically takes a long time to count votes, and that process will be even further delayed this year as the GOP has worked to question the validity of thousands of votes in court. Other states like Georgia, Wisconsin and Michigan may also see a “red mirage,” with many Democratic votes coming from mail-in ballots or large cities.
What Republicans are likely truly trying to do with comments about the length of ballot counting is set the stage for Republican candidates to reject the results of the election if they lose, as many Republicans have already threatened to do. If they lose, such candidates may point to statements like Cruz’s to say that the election was rigged against them — a blatant lie.
It’s unclear what the power-grabbing strategy of rejecting legitimate election results will lead to, but political scholars and insiders have warned that right-wing militants are planning more attacks like the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. Congressional Republicans have, after all, spent the last two years defending the attack and rejecting attempts to prevent future similar attempted coups.