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Why it may take weeks to get election results, know who won Senate

As of Nov. 17, Democrats held enough Senate seats to retain their majority while Republicans claimed the House. Here’s why it took so long. (Video: Blair Guild/The Washington Post)

Midterm results are coming slower than usual in the races that could decide who controls both chambers of Congress. After the polls closed on Election Day, officials advised Americans to brace for uncertainty: The outcome of these hypercompetitive contests won’t be clear for a while.

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Senate control
Democrats will keep Senate majority after winning eight out of the nine seats rated competitive by Cook Political Report. The only remaining race will be decided in Georgia in a Dec. 6 runoff — here’s how it will work.
House control
Republicans narrowly won back control of the House, creating a split Congress and dealing a blow to President Biden and his agenda.
What the results mean for 2024
A Republican Party red wave seems to be a ripple after Republicans fell short in the Senate and narrowly won control in the House. Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential campaign on Tuesday, ignoring the advice of longtime allies who encouraged him to delay the announcement.

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Several factors are contributing to delayed clarity: the length of time it takes for state election officials to tabulate mail and absentee ballots, the potential for recounts in close contests, caution by media organizations about declaring winners and the stalemate in Georgia that sparked a runoff.

Live maps: Where midterm votes are still being counted

The Senate’s fate now comes down to three battleground states. Whoever wins both Arizona and Nevada — where Sen. Mark Kelly (D) and Republican contender Adam Laxalt hold slim leads, respectively — will secure control of the chamber.

Mail ballots in Nevada can be counted until Saturday afternoon. Officials in Maricopa County, home to more than half of Arizona’s voters, however, warned weeks ago that ballot tallying could take up to 12 days. (An automatic recount is triggered in the state if a candidate loses by less than or equal to 0.5 percent of the vote.)

If triumphs are split, it will all boil down to who conquers the Georgia runoff on Dec. 6. Neither Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) nor Herschel Walker (R) has won half the vote, which is required in the state for victory.

The battle for the House is more competitive than analysts predicted.

Republicans have swept 206 districts thus far, and Democrats have claimed 183, according to The Washington Post’s tally. The biggest batches of uncalled races are in Arizona and California, where ballots postmarked by Election Day can be tallied until Nov. 15.

Officials nationwide have urged patience, saying pandemic-related increases in mail voting, along with a shifting road map of disparate rules, continue to slow vote tallies. Adding to that are the traditional snags of human error and technical difficulties. Naming winners in all the showdowns for 35 Senate seats and 435 House seats, along with 36 gubernatorial contests and a batch of state legislative races, could be a week-plus journey.

“It doesn’t mean anything nefarious is happening,” acting Pennsylvania secretary of the commonwealth Leigh M. Chapman said of the wait.

Mail voting surged during the pandemic as Americans, particularly Democrats, opted to skip crowded polling sites. Voters have applied for fewer absentee ballots than they did two years ago, as coronavirus guards have been collectively lowered, experts say, but requests still outpaced 2018.

States enforce varying due dates for those envelopes, along with different procedures for when they can be vetted and tallied. That leads to quick answers in places such as Delaware, which counted 90 percent of its 2020 votes in about two hours, and causes extended uncertainty in places such as Alaska, where results might not be known until Nov. 23.

“This is nothing new for us, folks,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said Tuesday. “Don’t be alarmed.”

How long it took for five key states to count ballots in 2020

Days after

election

+5

Election

Day

+10

+15

+20

Pennsylvania

100%

99.2%

93.1%

All ballots were

counted 20 days

after the election.

39.7%

0

Arizona

100%

89.1%

0

Michigan

100%

All ballots were counted

three days post-election.

33.3%

0

Georgia

100%

63.2%

0

Wisconsin

100%

62.1%

0

Source: Associated Press

HANNAH DORMIDO/THE WASHINGTON POST

How long it took for five key states to count ballots in 2020

Days after

election

+5

Election

Day

+10

+20

+15

Pennsylvania

100%

99.2%

93.1%

All ballots were

counted 20 days

after the election.

39.7%

0

Arizona

100%

89.1%

0

Michigan

100%

All ballots were counted

three days post-election.

33.3%

0

Georgia

100%

63.2%

0

Wisconsin

100%

62.1%

0

Source: Associated Press

HANNAH DORMIDO/THE WASHINGTON POST

How long it took for five key states to count ballots in 2020

Election

Day

Days after election

+5

+10

+15

+20

Pennsylvania

99.2%

100%

93.1%

All ballots were

counted 20 days

after the election.

39.7%

0

Arizona

100%

89.1%

0

Michigan

100%

All ballots were counted

three days post-election.

33.3%

0

Georgia

100%

63.2%

0

Wisconsin

100%

62.1%

0

HANNAH DORMIDO/THE WASHINGTON POST

Source: Associated Press

Normalizing vote-by-mail and the ballot drop box in recent years has made democracy more convenient, advocates say: Turnout for the 2020 election skyrocketed to the highest levels in decades. But it also unleashed logistical hurdles and spurred false claims by President Donald Trump and his allies, who seized on early returns showing him in the lead in key states before mail ballots were counted.

Election officials have warned that early returns could create a “red mirage” based on the initial tabulation of in-person ballots cast largely by Republican voters — only to be overtaken by a “blue shift,” when mail ballots cast by Democratic voters are tallied later.

The uncertainty of how voters of each party cast their ballots this year in different states will make races trickier to call, said David Scott, head of news strategy and operations at the Associated Press, which analyzes raw vote totals before naming winners.

“In Arizona, for example, votes counted after Election Day in 2018 were slightly more Democratic than those counted before,” he said. “But in 2020, votes counted after Election Day in Arizona were slightly more Republican than those counted before.”

The last ballots tallied could bring “unexpected shifts” for a candidate, he added, especially in contests where just a few hundred votes could deliver victory.

Because of this, Scott said, the AP could delay some of its calls, particularly in close races. “That volatility makes it a challenge to know if the trend [of] the votes counted first will continue throughout the tabulation,” he said. “That will lead to caution.”

Several news outlets, including The Washington Post, said they would review data more rigorously this year before reporting the winners of the tightest races. And with all the fierce contests playing out, legal challenges and recounts will probably trigger even more slowdowns.

Officials flagged no major voting issues on Election Day, but misinformation proliferated online. Misleading videos and viral tweets poured preemptive doubt on the midterm outcomes, especially in battleground areas such as Maricopa County, where counting remains underway.

The head of Fox News’s Decision Desk, Arnon Mishkin, stressed that delays are not signs of foul play.

“There’s nothing to it,” he said in a podcast interview Tuesday, “other than that these election officials are counting based on the rules in place.”

Emma Brown, Scott Clement, Tom Hamburger, Nathaniel Herz, Patrick Marley and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez contributed to this report.

The 2022 Midterm Elections

Georgia runoff election: Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) won re-election in the Georgia Senate runoff, defeating Republican challenger Herschel Walker and giving Democrats a 51st seat in the Senate for the 118th Congress. Get live updates here and runoff results by county.

Divided government: Republicans narrowly won back control of the House, while Democrats will keep control of the Senate, creating a split Congress.

What the results mean for 2024: A Republican Party red wave seems to be a ripple after Republicans fell short in the Senate and narrowly won control in the House. Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential campaign shortly after the midterms. Here are the top 10 2024 presidential candidates for the Republicans and Democrats.

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