In Brazil, a federal election body releases a tally on election night. In many other countries, including the United States, every last vote takes longer to count. But a clear winner often emerges on election night, nonetheless, or the next day at the latest. French President Emmanuel Macron accepted victory with a rousing speech the night of the May 7, 2017, presidential election. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed his country the morning after general elections Dec. 12, 2019, in which his party saw a landslide win.
What is unique about the United States is its reliance on a decentralized electoral system for choosing the president, compared with some form of a central election administration common in other countries, Carroll said. “All other countries have a system where there is a central [election] office and sub-offices,” he said. “In our country it is run, overseen and counted at a state level.”
Sometimes, though, as the United States saw Tuesday in its presidential election, the margins of votes counted are too close to call a victor. Although no Election Day in the United States has ended with all the votes tallied — and the boom in voting by mail amid the coronavirus pandemic has posed new challenges for states struggling to keep up — President Trump has used the delayed results to sow doubts about the legitimacy of the vote, without evidence.
“Last night I was leading, often solidly, in many key States, in almost all instances Democrat run & controlled. Then, one by one, they started to magically disappear as surprise ballot dumps were counted,” he tweeted Wednesday morning, while votes in the United States were still being tallied and the election remained undecided.
The Trump administration has not taken a similar line on elections abroad. In a statement on October parliamentary elections in the country of Georgia, U.S. officials praised the “high voter turnout” and urged voters to be “patient and allow the process to be conducted in a calm, peaceful, and respectful manner in accordance with Georgian law and international standards and practices.”
Not all countries expect an election-night winner, either. In some countries, including Afghanistan and Iraq, votes take weeks or months to count in response to corruption claims. In other places, such as Israel and Sweden, high turnout or complicated processes can drive a longer results timeline.
Here are examples of elections around the world in which a clear victor did not emerge right away.
On April 17, 2019, Indonesia held the world’s largest same-day direct presidential election, in which more than 192 million people were eligible to vote. It wasn’t until more than a month later that the winner, Joko Widodo, was announced — on May 21, one day ahead of schedule.
The country’s voting process is a monumental democratic undertaking, with 800,000 polling stations and 6 million election workers. Unlike in the United States, the count is conducted largely in public and by hand.
It took days for Swedes to learn the results of general elections in September 2018. The country of about 10 million people saw its highest turnout that year since 1985, with more than 6.5 million votes cast for the election held Sept. 9.
The count was not finished until Sept. 14, with officials citing the unusually high turnout and the close result. After all the votes were tallied, the country remained in political deadlock for longer as parliamentary parties jockeyed over seats, with no clear majority in sight.
For many countries with parliamentary systems, a vote total sometimes looks more like the beginning of the election process than the end, as factions wrangle to form a new government.
Israel’s citizens vote for national political parties, which are allotted seats in the legislature based on the percentage of votes received. The leader of the party with the most votes then ideally forms a ruling coalition. But on the night of elections, when initial exit polls are released, analysts remain cautious: They have repeatedly proved tenuous as counting continues and the percentage of allocated seats in parliaments shifts, sometimes decisively.
That was the case in April 2019, during Israel’s first of three elections within the past year. On election night, opposition candidate Benny Gantz of the Blue and White party declared victory after election polls from two of the three main Israeli television channels showed his side ahead. Soon after, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did the same, citing another exit poll. As more votes continued to be counted, the balance of votes and seats shifted conclusively in favor of Netanyahu’s bloc of right-wing parties. Gantz conceded defeat the following day.
Afghanistan held elections Sept. 28, 2019, amid spikes in Taliban violence, with low turnout and widespread accusations of fraud and misconduct. Logistically, there were concerns over new biometric devices to collect voter data, but the public was also on edge after a disputed presidential election in 2014 nearly tore the country apart. The results were slated to be announced Oct. 17 but were delayed by recounts, and it was only in February that an official winner, President Ashraf Ghani, was named.
Ghani and his opponent, Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, both declared victory. After a further impasse, they signed a power-sharing agreement in May.