Why Not Having Results on Election Night Is Okay

From The Poynter Report with Tom Jones:

Election night is Tuesday.

But as we’ve seen in recent times, the term “election night” can be a bit misleading. It suggests that when the night is over, the election is over. We know that is not the case.

Think back to the infamous 2000 presidential election when it took more than a month before we knew for certain that George W. Bush had defeated Al Gore. And, of course, it was only two years ago that it took several days after Election Day before the votes were tabulated and we knew that Joe Biden had beaten Donald Trump.

Now we brace for another Election Day. In fact, we should probably think of it as “election week” or “election month.” With several races predicted to be quite close, it might take well after Tuesday to determine the winners in places such as Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona, just to name a few.

Marc Burstein, who is overseeing ABC News’ election coverage, told Vanity Fair’s Charlotte Klein, “No one’s going on vacation on Wednesday or Thursday or Friday.”

This year, it’s more critical than ever that news organizations have no missteps when it comes to reporting on the election results. The seeds of doubt in our elections have already been planted by Trump, his supporters and many (particularly on the right) who, without any proof, believe the only way they can lose is if they get cheated. This election is full of candidates who wrongly believe the 2020 election was stolen from Trump and are sure to call foul if they lose next week. The Washington Post recently reported that 291 Republican candidates nationwide in this election have denied the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Because of how votes are tabulated in some states, depending on early voting and such, it’s quite possible that one candidate might go from far ahead to way behind (or vice versa) over the course of a day or two.

Earlier this year, MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki told me, “The bottom line is that the average voter tuning in to find out who won an election in a lot of states is going to get understandably confused watching these wild swings that can take place. And trying to understand how it can take days for the votes to come in and trying to make sense why three days after the election has taken place, there’s still a hundred thousands votes from X county yet to come out. I make it a priority to really try to understand on my own exactly what the nuances are in every state and every county.”

Education is the key. The Associated Press has been running explainers on how the election works, including stories such as why we might not know the results right away in certain areas and why the AP declares the winner of elections.

The AP’s Christina A. Cassidy writes, “Not knowing the winner on election night says nothing about the fairness of an election or the accuracy of results.”

But because we won’t know some of the winners right away, conspiracy theorists have time to stir up doubt. This is where the media’s role is crucial. ABC “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir smartly told Klein, “We know from recent history, the early picture isn’t always where we land when the final votes are tallied and the narrative that fills that void, that window of time, can be dangerous if it’s not driven by the facts, and extremely careful reporting.”

That will be an absolute must on Election Day … or election week … or however long it takes.

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