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Why is the count taking so long?



(Washington) The Americans voted on Tuesday, but several days after the election, the future majority in Congress is at stake in a few key elections, the results of which are pending.

A recurring situation in the United States. Far from the traditional French announcement at 8 p.m. sharp, the wait for results often drags on.

Those announced the same evening are also estimates from the media, which concoct them with the help of statistical experts.

The country had been marked by the presidential duel of 2000, the outcome of which was only known after 36 days.

At the end of an ultra-tight race in Florida against George W. Bush, Al Gore had asked for a manual count, the start of a battle finally decided by the Supreme Court in December.

At the heart of the controversy were often old machines, used to read punched cards, whose holes had sometimes been badly drilled.

Without going as far as such an imbroglio, history tends to repeat itself. In 2020, the results of the presidential election between Joe Biden and Donald Trump were only known after four days.

Georgia, a special case

The same year, the wait to know which party would win the majority in the Senate lasted for weeks, because of a second round in Georgia.

Like deja vu? This year too, control of the upper house risks being played out in the same state, which has become a hot spot on the American electoral map, during a new round organized on December 6, none of the three candidates having reached the bar. necessary 50%.

The origins of this system are disputed.

The elected official who, in the 1960s, had proposed that the State adopt it, saw it as a way of “circumventing the growing political strength of black people”, according to a report from the Ministry of the Interior.

The process was widespread in the segregationist southern states. Some still use it for their primaries, but only Georgia and Louisiana use it for their elections.

Ironically for this legacy of a racist past, both candidates this year in Georgia – Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker – are African American.

patchwork of rules

This is one of the points that make these ballots so complex: each of the 50 states has its own rules.

“If Florida can count 7.5 million ballots in 5 hours, how is it possible that some states take days to count 2 million? “, was annoyed on Twitter the republican senator Marco Rubio.


Michigan state voters

In the United States, a land of ultra-urban areas as well as extremely rural regions, each state can adapt the way its population expresses its voice.

Some Americans vote on machines, others with paper ballots. Some vote on the spot, others remotely, weeks in advance, or on polling day.

Postal voting, widespread since the 2020 presidential election, organized in the midst of a pandemic, complicates things.

The American ballots are already long to count: citizens answer a multitude of questions, to elect representatives, prosecutors or participate in referendums.

But the votes cast by mail are even more so, because they require preparation, and can arrive several days after that of the election. Ohio and Alaska even count those who arrived up to ten days later.

In many states, election officials are not allowed to start counting them in advance anyway.

The additional time needed to take them into account regularly fuels conspiracy theories, as was the case in 2020.

These votes, which tend to lean Democratic, can swing a seat if the candidates are close.

Glitches and contingencies

Organizing elections in a huge country with some 333 million inhabitants is, one can imagine, a logistical challenge.

The process rarely goes without a few hiccups. In Arizona, the electoral machines of a county thus encountered operating problems which disrupted the vote on Tuesday.

Some Republicans saw it as evidence of fraud, a claim immediately dismissed by authorities.

Even without a technical incident, the races can simply be extremely close – as George W. Bush and Al Gore had experienced.

And when in doubt, a recount is in order.

Twenty states have laws ordering it automatically if the margin between two candidates is too small.

In 2008, an election for a senate seat in Minnesota resulted in an epic legal battle. The results had been known… eight months after the election.

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