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EDITORIAL: Elections patience a virtue

York Dispatch editorial board

An unprecedented presidential campaign reaches its climax tomorrow as tens of millions of voters fan out at polling stations across the nation. They’ll join the record-shattering 90 million-plus Americans who, motivated by pandemic concerns and political determination, have already cast ballots.

A word of hope, here, for a peaceful process. Weekend examples of dangerous intimidation by Trump supporters surrounding a Biden-Harris campaign bus on a Texas freeway, and pepper spray-happy police officers dispersing voters marching to the polls in Alamance County, North Carolina, must not be replicated Tuesday.

If emotions are hot and tensions are high, it’s because the stakes are even higher. In their agendas, visions and demeanors, Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden could not be more different. And with control of the Senate also on the table, the ability of the presidential victor to follow through legislatively will likewise be decided.

Tyler Chronister, York County deputy controller, scans ballot envelopes to confirm receipt at the York County Administration Center Friday, Oct. 30, 2020. The process informs voters that their ballots have been registered. Bill Kalina photo

At the state level, voters will weigh in on important down-ballot races. In Pennsylvania, that includes attorney general, treasurer, auditor general and, locally, a high-profile congressional race between incumbent Republican Rep. Scott Perry and Democratic challenger Eugene DePasquale.

All of which is why voters in Pennsylvania and nationwide will be eager to learn the election results.

They will need to set eagerness aside and demonstrate that most un-American of practices: Patience.

Given the historic number of voters, the huge influx in mail-in ballots and, in many instances, laws preventing the counting of early ballots ahead of Election Day, there’s a good chance the winner of the presidential race, several Senate races and, thus, the majority in the Senate will not be known by tomorrow night. Or Wednesday. Or perhaps for days after.

Among the factors potentially complicating election-evening results:

  • If long lines during early balloting are any indication, polls in many areas may have to remain open well beyond planned closing times to accommodate all voters.
  • Nearly half of all states — including Pennsylvania, thanks to a recent Supreme Court ruling — continue to accept mail-in ballots after Election Day, as long as they are postmarked by that date.
  • In two states with multiple candidates running for the U.S. Senate, the failure of any candidate to capture 50 percent of the vote triggers next steps. In Georgia, that’s a Jan. 5 run-off between the top two vote-getters. In Maine, it’s a “ranked-choice” voting tally that tabulates not just voters’ preference but their second and third choices under a weighted system. Since either race could determine the Senate’s majority, the result may not be known, in the case of the Georgia race, until next year.

As the Washington Post put it, “Election Day 2020 in fact marks the end of a lengthy voting period and the start of a potentially lengthy counting period.”

None of this is particularly unusual. The 2000 Bush-vs.-Gore race was the most notorious but hardly the only time in recent memory Americans went to bed not knowing who their next president would be. In 2004 and 2016, the winners — George W. Bush and Trump, respectively – weren’t determined until the following day. And remember, these “results” are most often projections from news agencies; official confirmation of final tallies by elections officials almost always follows by days, if not longer.

That’s as it always has been and as it should be. There’s nothing uncommon or unseemly in results taking days to confirm — and that’s especially so this year, thanks to pandemic-provoked early voting and Republican efforts to delay counts (including in Pennsylvania).

Keep all of this in mind when voices on the right, led by Trump, make the fantastical argument that election results must be announced by midnight tomorrow.

It has been a long, exhausting, complicated election season. A likely record number of voters cast ballots. Every one of those votes must be counted. And that may take time.

And that means, regardless of party, Americans must disregard partisan calls for premature elections results and practice patience.