Michigan won’t see complete results on election night (we never do). Here’s what else you need to know.

By: - November 2, 2020 6:32 am

Voting site Detroit Chrysler Elementary School in Detroit on Primary Election Day Aug. 4, 2020 | Ken Coleman

If you want to know about voting, the Michigan Advance has a handy Voting Guide written in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan.

We’ve also heard from a lot of readers with questions about what to expect on Election Day — and beyond — so we’ve put together some answers.

SOS says Election Day will be more akin to ‘election week.’

Every voter is itching to know if their preferred candidate won. 

But due to a surge in mail-in ballots, record voter turnout and a debilitating COVID-19 pandemic, Michiganders — and Americans, as a whole — are going to have to be patient. Election officials are stressing that complete results for races from president down to school board won’t arrive on Tuesday night. They never do. But they may take even longer than we’re used to. 

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has said that complete statewide election results may not be available until Friday, three days after Election Day. In Michigan, election officials will “canvass” results, meaning they’ll verify if each ballot was properly counted. The Board of State Canvassers will meet to do that on Nov. 23.

In 2016, the board officially certified Donald Trump’s win on Nov. 28 — three weeks after Election Day.


There are a lot of mail-in ballots to count. 

Benson has pointed out that beginning on Election Day, a “vast amount of data” will have been received and need to be processed, which may take longer than in some past elections. 

Why? Well, there’s a few reasons. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has caused millions of Americans to turn to mail-in voting instead of in-person voting, where COVID-19 exposure could happen. 

Michigan voters in 2018 also approved Proposal 3, an amendment to the state Constitution that allows any registered voter to obtain an absentee ballot. That means more people have gained access to absentee ballots. Voters either mail those ballots to their local clerk or drop them off at their respective clerk’s office. 

“And unlike other states, Michigan law provides very limited ability for clerks to prepare [absentee ballots] ahead of Election Day,” Benson said. “Because of this, and the significant increase in voters casting absentee ballots, it could take until Friday, Nov. 6, for all ballots to be counted.”

Under Michigan law, no election clerks can start counting absentee ballots before Election Day. Legislation sponsored by Democrats to count ballots before Election Day was not taken up this session.

Only some clerks can process ballots to be counted when that day comes. A law passed by the GOP-controlled Michigan Legislature and signed into effect by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in early October lets clerks in jurisdictions with at least 25,000 residents pre-process ballots for a 10-hour time span on Monday. 

More than 3.2 million people had requested absentee ballots and 2.7 million had returned their ballots as of Saturday, according to the Secretary of State’s office. It’s close to half of the 5.08 million voters who participated in the 2008 presidential election, the highest turnout in state history. 


There’s been record voter turnout in prior 2020 elections.

Voter turnout in 2020 has been record-breaking. About 25% of the state’s eligible electorate participated in May local elections which decided school tax, bonding and other proposals — double the usual turnout for May. About 99% of those voters used absentee ballots, according to the Department of State.

Approximately 2.5 million voters voted in the statewide August primary election, a turnout that also shattered previous records. Two-thirds of those voters cast an absentee ballot. This year’s primary election turnout was higher than August 2018, when 2.2 million people voted, and higher than August 2016, when 1.4 million people voted. 

Increased turnout in those elections has led election officials to prepare for unprecedented participation in Tuesday’s election, which has been billed as one of the most significant in U.S. history.

Another 2 million Michigan voters are expected to vote Tuesday, according to Benson. Proposal 2 also allows for same-day voter registration, which is expected to further boost turnout. 

And the speed of election results will depend on how close individual races are, Benson notes.


Slower results aren’t indicative of voter fraud or problems.

The Advance has written extensively about the myth that mail-in ballot voter fraud is widespread. It’s not. It’s extremely rare.

Benson and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel have previously said that people who try to vote twice on Tuesday — as President Trump has suggested — and anyone who tries to exploit the absentee ballot process will be caught and prosecuted. 

Benson expressed concerns over the potential for candidates to be falsely declared or declare themselves as winners early on election night. 

“To me, that’s just going to be another example of the type of misinformation and disinformation that we’re seeing multiple ways from multiple platforms and voices in this election cycle,” Benson told NBC host Chuck Todd in early September. “So, we are going to counter that misinformation with truth and accuracy.”

Trump tried to undermine faith in the state’s Democratic leaders during an Oct. 17 rally in Muskegon by telling his supporters to keep an eye on Michigan elections.

“Be careful of her [Whitmer] and her attorney general [Nessel] because, you know, they’re in charge of the ballot stuff, right,” he said. 

State leaders including Whitmer, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, Nessel, Benson and election clerks across the state have since held press conferences to tell voters that Michigan elections will be secure and to trust their local election officials. 

“It may take a few days to determine who the winners are. But that’s okay,” Whitmer said. “Our local election clerks across the state will be working to get the counts right, and that’s what really matters.”


Networks might not immediately call close states or races. 

A plethora of news networks have said they don’t expect to call the presidential race on Tuesday evening. This comes after there was controversy over premature calls by some media during both the 2000 and 2016 presidential elections.

For instance, ABC News has indicated a definite call won’t be made until one candidate has won enough states to capture 270 electoral votes required to win the presidency, while CNN has said vote counts and reporting might extend into Wednesday or even later in the week. 

The Associated Press (AP) — an authority on election coverage and race calling — is planning to declare winners of more than 7,000 general election races ranging from the White House all the way down to seats in states’ legislatures. 

But readers should know AP says they won’t speculate, make projections or name likely winners if a race is closely contested. In 2000, AP refused to call the closely contested race in the Electoral College between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Florida’s margin made it too close to call, AP said. 

In 2016, AP called race results when Donald Trump won Wisconsin, putting him over 270 electoral votes needed to take the presidency. AP called that race at 2:29 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 9. 

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C.J. Moore
C.J. Moore

C.J. Moore covers the environment and the Capitol. She previously worked at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland as a public affairs staff science writer. She also previously covered crop sustainability and coal pollution issues for Great Lakes Echo. In addition, she served as editor in chief at The State News and covered its academics and research beat. She is a journalism graduate student at Michigan State University.