Alaskans, we join our fellow Americans in the 2020 waiting game. For the first time in a century, an election fell during a global pandemic, and a remarkable number of Alaskans made new voting plans to cast our ballots. While many of us are used to watching the results roll in live on television and Twitter, this year is different.
We must wait. And that’s OK. Accessibility and accuracy are far more important during a close election than immediate results. And most important of all, we must count every vote.
While it isn’t reflected in the nonstop tempo of our news cycle, patience is a democratic virtue. For democracy isn’t simply the casting of ballots, it’s also the counting.
This year, more than 120,000 ballots will sit uncounted until at least next week, and close races aren’t projected to be called until Nov. 18.
That’s not to say that media pundits or even the candidates themselves won’t try to preemptively declare victory. But just because someone says they’re the winner doesn’t make it true. A candidate could easily win the majority of in-person votes but, once all the mail-in ballots are counted, ultimately lose. And remember: Voters, not candidates or pundits, decide the winner.
Before the pandemic, voting by mail was becoming more common nationwide; this year, it was more popular than ever because it was a safe, secure and easy way for many to cast their ballots.
It’s good that voting by mail is becoming more accessible — all eligible voters should have this option, regardless of whether there’s a pandemic. But more mail-in ballots mean more time waiting for results. Why?
Well, first, Alaskans' ballots, which had to be postmarked by Election Day, have to make it through the mail to the Division of Elections, and the law gives overseas voters' ballots 15 days to arrive. And then, once the ballots arrive, it takes time to process them.
Ensuring security and accuracy means more time. This is not a disappointment: A lag in results is not only expected, it’s a good sign that the process is working. Each and every vote counts.
Announcing a winner too soon is not just likely to be inaccurate, it’s dangerous. Conflicting reports of election results chip away at voters' trust in the process and ultimately undermine election integrity. We must temper our expectations and prepare for days, and likely weeks, before winners are announced.
I know you’re tired of waiting. I am too. It feels like 2020 has been all about waiting: waiting for the pandemic to end, a vaccine to be finished, for candidate mailers to stop flooding my mailbox, and Alaska’s leaders to find real solutions to the state’s fiscal crisis.
And now we must wait for this: real results. So we must be patient and count every vote.
Joshua A. Decker is the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, which for 49 years has protected the constitutional rights of everyone in the Last Frontier.