TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas — In many ways, this November election is expected to be quite different from the elections of the past. One of those ways is when Texans – and Americans in general – will know the final results of the races.
In Texas, voters intending to cast their ballots in person have until 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3, to do so. However, mail-in ballots that are postmarked before Nov. 3 can be received by local election offices by 5 p.m. on Nov. 4. Ballots sent by a voter living overseas or who is in the military may be received as long as they are postmarked by 7 p.m. on the fifth day after Election Day.
So, mail-in ballots take longer to tally in general. And this year, election officials are expecting to receive a record number of mail-in ballots.
Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir told KVUE that by Oct. 12, the elections office had already received an estimated 5,000 mail-in ballots via hand-delivery. By Election Day, the office is expecting to have received about 100,000 total mail-in ballots.
DeBeauvoir said she doesn’t believe Travis County will be a location where residents will have to wonder about results, but she noted it is a large volume of ballots to process.
"We are making a concerted effort to see to it that all the ballots that we have by mail that are in-house at the start of Election Day will be included in the totals that we release at 7 p.m. That may very well be close to 100,000 by-mail ballots and that will be in addition to early voting and then, of course, we’ll be bringing in, as the evening progresses, all of the ballot boxes from Election Day," DeBeauvoir said.
"So, Travis County is not going to be one of the places where we have a big problem with not knowing, but we do have a giant volume to try to process. And so, we’ve pooled all hands on deck to see if we can take care of that," DeBeauvoir continued.
The question is: Are elections offices required to wait until Election Day to start tallying mail-in ballots? Turns out, the answer is a little complicated.
Processing and qualifying mail-in ballots
According to an advisory from the Texas director of elections, when the Early Voting Ballot Board (EVBB) can begin processing mail-in ballots depends on how large a county is.
For counties with a population of 100,000 or more or entities having a joint election with such a county, the EVBB may convene to begin processing and qualifying mail-in ballots by the 12th day before Election Day. For counties with a population of less than 100,000, the EVBB may convene to begin processing and qualifying mail ballots after the polls close on the last day of in-person early voting, or Oct. 30.
But qualifying and processing is different than counting. The qualifying and processing process includes first determining whether a ballot is acceptable. Then, for ballots that are accepted, the EVBB will enter the voter’s name on the poll list and separate the ballot from the carrier envelope, according to the director of elections' advisory.
The separated ballots will be counted by the ballot board or central counting station, whichever is applicable for the county.
Counting mail-in ballots
According to that same advisory, for counties with a population of 100,000 or more, the county may begin counting mail ballots after the polls close on the last day of in-person early voting, or Oct. 30. For counties with a population of less than 100,000, mail ballots may not be counted until the polls open on Election Day.
In either case, results may not be released until the polls close on Election Day.
"With 100,000 ballots, that’s about an 11-hour throughput. So, we will start first thing on election morning, bright and early in the morning, tallying those ballots and we will use the days before to just do preparation," DeBeauvoir told KVUE. "Processing of ballots is a different thing than when we tally them on Election Day."
It's also important to note that any results Texans do learn on Election Day are unofficial. According to the Texas Secretary of State's office, to make election results official, the results must be canvassed. That basically means the final report, where everything has been checked by officials. The canvas deadline is Nov. 12.
That report is then sent to Gov. Greg Abbott, who reviews and signs it. Only then are election results official.
Once the polls close on Nov. 3, KVUE will keep track of the 2020 election results here. Be sure to download KVUE's app to get updates as they come in: kvue.com/app. On the KVUE app, you can customize the type of content you would like to be notified about and see the most, including election and voting information. Find out how to customize KVUE's app here.
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