Be Patient During Election Season 2020
The Poynter Institute spoke with election experts and media outlets about the difficulties in covering an election in which the final vote counts may not be tallied until well after Election Day.
Key Takeaways for Outlets and Audiences
- News organizations should explain why vote counts take so long, from contextualizing vote-by-mail deadlines in each state to breaking down the time it takes to physically process mailed-in ballots.
- The biggest challenge to responsible news outlets will be explaining to voters in a clear way that although results may be substantially delayed, this does not mean that the results are invalid or that “something fishy is going on.”
- Beware of any coverage that declares decisive victories early during election day. Experts warn that this could well turn into an election week and that early leads may prove meaningless due to the length of the process.
- The predicted increase in vote-by-mail in contested states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire will make the election that much harder to call early on.
- Other states, like Texas, North Carolina, and California accept ballots postmarked by election day, so voters and media outlets should expect not to be able to call those states until days after the election.
For more on this topic, you can also read the Washington Post’s article on what news outlets must do to prepare the public for uncertainty on election night and to minimize ambiguity and anxiety.