In an unprecedented year, perhaps it’s only natural that we have an unprecedented election—the first in our lifetimes to occur during a global pandemic, and one in which an astounding number of votes will be cast after being mailed to voters. While many of us are used to staying up late to learn the results on election night, this time it may take days — possibly weeks — to call the winner.
And that’s okay. Accessibility and accuracy are far more important during a close election than immediate results. The goal of any democratic election is to represent the will of the people, and to achieve that goal, we must count every single vote. While it isn’t reflected in the nonstop metabolism of our news cycle, patience is a democratic virtue.
Even before the pandemic, voting by mail was becoming more common nationwide, but it’s more popular than ever because it provides a safe, secure, and convenient way for many voters to cast a ballot. This year, thanks to the work of state legislators and the Secretary of State’s office, Vermont instituted universal mail-in voting for the first time. As a result, nearly 160,000 ballots had already been cast two weeks ahead of Election Day — roughly half the number of votes cast in 2016.
It’s a good thing that vote by mail is becoming more accessible — all eligible voters should have this option, regardless of whether there’s a pandemic. But it also means more time spent counting, because these ballots take longer to process—for mundane reasons, such as removal of ballots from envelopes, as well as applying security protocols to verify each ballot, as with ballots cast in-person—and many states don’t begin processing ballots until the polls close on Election Day.