Every four years, Oklahoma voters sport their “I Voted” stickers and eagerly await results on election night. This year, though, election night could turn into “election week” or even “election month” for a number of reasons.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, larger numbers of mail-in and absentee ballots will likely be cast. So far, over 69 million absentee/mail-in ballots have been requested across the country (roughly 30% of the voting eligible population), and more absentee ballots will be requested in the coming weeks. These numbers are much higher than in 2016, when just over 51 million absentee ballots were cast in total (around 24% of all votes).
As a result, tallying votes could take more time than in previous elections. While Oklahoma’s absentee ballots are required to be in by 7 p.m. on Election Day, 15 states – including battlegrounds like Ohio, North Carolina, and Nevada – allow absentee ballots to be counted if they are postmarked on or before Election Day. The results in these states may not be finalized until all mail-in ballots are received and counted. Additionally, early voting turnout is greatly outpacing previous years. So far in 2020, over 6 million voters have cast their ballots in early voting states, compared with around 75,000 early votes cast by this time in 2016. This election could have both larger turnout and a larger proportion of mail-in ballots than in previous elections.
Despite the unique circumstances of this election, a recent poll showed 42% of Americans think it is somewhat or very likely a winner will be declared on election night. Instead, we should expect “Election Week.” But, this should not be a source of alarm. It means that election officials are being diligent in counting all ballots. This takes time, even though many states start counting ballots before election day. Even after the votes are counted, battleground states may need to recount to ensure the accuracy of who won.
Oklahomans should not allow a delayed outcome to deter them from voting or lead them to mistrust the process. Mail-in voting has already come under attack this election cycle as rife with fraud. This is false. Americans have been voting by mail since the Civil War, and five states – Utah, Colorado, Oregon, Hawaii, and Washington – conduct their elections completely by mail. Of the nearly 50 million votes cast by mail in blue and red states alike, there have been just 50 instances of fraud. Fraud is extremely difficult (and unwise) to commit.
If you are voting by mail, be sure to request your absentee ballot online by Oct. 27. You’ll need two stamps and a copy of your state ID or voter ID card. Make sure you follow all the directions and mail your completed ballot with enough time for it to arrive by Election Day. You can also drop off your completed ballot at the county election board. To make sure your mail-in vote was received and counted, login online and track its progress.
If you decide to vote in-person, give yourself plenty of time in case you have to wait in line. If you decide to vote early, check with your county election board to find out on what dates and in which locations early voting will occur.
Delays in determining the final result do not warrant skepticism that the election was fraudulent. Rather, democracy is a process that takes time. Oklahoma voters should have confidence in their ability to vote by whichever means works best for them. Your voice matters, as does your fellow Americans. We urge Oklahomans to be patient as everyone’s vote is tallied.
Joshua Jansa is an assistant professor of political science at Oklahoma State University
Joseph Anthony is a visiting assistant professor of political science at Oklahoma State University
Matt Motta is an assistant professor of political science at Oklahoma State University