The Election May Not End On Election Night

Thanks to races in as many six states that may be decided by absentee and write-in ballots, we may not know the outcome of the 2010 Elections for several weeks after Election Day.

David Catanese at Politico takes note of something I’ve written about before, that the question of who controls the Senate may not be resolved for some time after November 2nd:

It may not be over in 10 days after all.

While control of the House is all but certain to be resolved on the evening of Nov. 2, the Senate, with its collection of dead heat races, is shaping up to be another matter entirely.

Thanks to a handful of likely photo-finish contests and a resurgent Republican Party on the cusp of flipping the 10 seats necessary to win a Senate majority, an almost unthinkable scenario is beginning to take form — one in which control of the Senate remains unknown for days, or perhaps even weeks, after Election Day.

The prospect of electoral overtime isn’t as far-fetched as it might seem. Few in either party dispute that the GOP will be gaining seats and most independent analysts place the number somewhere in the high single digits. With competitive races in places like Alaska and Washington — two states with a history of delivering delayed results — and razor-close races in more than a half a dozen other states, it is increasingly plausible that control of the U.S. Senate could hang in the balance past Election Day as America awaits recounts, tallies of write-in votes or legal challenges over alleged election irregularities.

The party committees, individual campaigns and even state election officials are quietly preparing for the worst and even beginning to warn that it may take some time to sort out the winners and losers.

“There’s something else that keeps me up at night beyond tight poll numbers,” wrote National Republican Senatorial Committee Executive Director Rob Jesmer in a memo to supporters Thursday. “Recounts. That means the fight could last beyond Nov. 2, and we have to be prepared.”

Citing 2008’s seven-month recount and legal battle between Minnesota Sen. Al Franken and Norm Coleman, the NRSC is asking supporters to pony up a total of $100,000 this week for lawyers.

“We saw it happen in 2008 in Minnesota, and we cannot let the Democrats try to steal any of these seats,” Jesmer argued in his pitch.

Catansese focuses on two states in his article.

In Washington, we have Dino Rossi running close behind Senator Patty Murray and absentee ballot rules that allow voters to have their ballots counted as long as they are postmarked on or before November 2nd. The latest polls show Murray and Rossi essentially statistically tied, with Murray holding a slight lead within the margin of error. So, it isn’t hard to believe that the final outcome of this race could end up depending upon absentee ballots, and that the counting of those ballots could end up being the same kind of partisan battle we saw in Minnesota, which took eight months to resolve.

The other state, of course, is Alaska, where Lisa Murkowski seems to be running a surprisingly strong write-in campaign against Joe Miller and Scott McAdams. The latest polls show Murkowski and Miller essentially tied, assuming of course that they accurately reflect voter intention with regard to a write-in candidate. Assuming these polls are accurate, though, it’s obvious that the Alaska Senate election will not be decided on Election Night. It will take several days at least for poll workers to count the write-in ballots, and depending how close the result is when they’re done it’s fairly likely we’ll see challenges from the Miller and/or Murkowski camps challenging the interpretation of voter intent on a write-in ballot — does an obvious mis-spelling like “Murkowsky” count, for example, and what about something like “Senator Lisa” ? If the margin between Miller and Murkowski is sufficiently close, how those issues are decided will be important, and litigation would seem to be inevitable.

Beyond Alaska and Washington, though, there are other states where the results may not be clear when November 2nd becomes November 3rd. In Nevada, for example. polls currently show Harry Reid and Sharron Angle in a tight race and the presence of a third party candidate and the option to vote for “None of These” could mean that absentee ballots will decide the race. The same thing could happen in Illinois, Colorado, and West Virginia.

Of these six races, Alaska seems to be the one where post-election litigation and vote counting disputes would be most likely but, given the polling, it’s also possible that we won’t actually know who controls the Senate until weeks or months after Election Day.

FILED UNDER: 2010 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Gustopher says:

    Washington State is effectively vote-by-mail — except for Pierce county. This means that it is not absentee ballots that we will be waiting on, it’s just ballots.

    And yes, we may not know who won for a little while. So what? Counting ballots takes time, and the convenience of pundits and politicians is a minor concern.

    Voter turnout is usually higher than average for the country, and voters get to sit in the comfort of their home and state dumbfoundedly at the 43 ballot initiatives, port authority candidates, charter revisions, judges and “non-partisan” offices — taking their time to figure out what they are, rather than being confronted with them in the voting booth and voting based on referendum title or name recognition.

    And, the requirement that ballots are post-marked by election day, rather than received by election day, means that people don’t get disenfranchised if the post office is slower than expected.

    Overall, it works well and I wish the rest of the country would follow suit. Plus, we like to taunt perennial loser Dino Rossi. This drags out his suffering.

  2. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    When the people cannot get there representation by normal means, by which I mean the ballot box? What is left for them to do. Delay is the playground of those who would steal elections. I woul;d say be very very careful in this area as the Tea Party after than might not be peaceful.

  3. floyd says:

    You mean it’s gonna look like 50 Minnesotas, only easier? Sur-effing-prize!

  4. floyd says:

    I’m planning to vote this election….problem is,I’ll never know how many times.
    Early voting is so obviously tailored for corruption, no honest person could support it.

  5. Tano says:


    I am not a fan of early voting – maybe I could see voting on the weekend, Monday, and Tuesday, but not more than that.

    But I wonder why it is you think that corruption is such an obvious problem? How do you think that would work in ways that it can’t work if voting were on one day?

  6. floyd says:

    intimidation, multiple votes, counterfieting, destruction of mail, mail fraud, delayed results,documentation fraud. all enhanced and multiplied by “Mail It In”.
    At least with a registrar, a polling place, and election judges, it is much harder to pass Fido’s vote on as legitimate, or dead grandma’s vote.
    Even the term “mail it in” is defined as…. “to perform in a cursory or sub-standard manner”.

    If a person is too lazy to find a registrar, register to vote, and present a VRC at the polling place, he should not be, and does not deserve to be counted.
    The opportunities for fraud have long been recognized in “absentee voting” and this is far worse. The traditional and foundational protection of the “Secret Ballot” is blown out of the water with “Mail it in” voting.
    Now, I have opened myself to a variety of criticisms, but very few with any legitimacy, and all from predictable sources.

  7. Tea Partier says:

    This is true, it may take weeks before the Democrat election stealing and fraud teams get done stealing, manufacturing, and otherwise committing mass fraud, just like they do every election, except that in closer ones, they just nakedly commit fraud on a mass scale. Any election where the real vote is not at least 2% in favor of someone else, is systematically stolen by the democrats, via miscount, outright theft, etc. They have teams of election fraud experts that travel the US, and are pre-positioned anywhere a close race is expected.

    Also, the Democrats have been pouring huge money into the Secretary of State offices of many states, all of which have been working frantically to enable massive fraud to help Democrats win elections. Typical SOS elections often have a few thousand dollars spent and the people running are rarely partisan… Until lately, where suddenly Democrats have been pouring hundreds of thousands (millions total) into SoS races, and every partisan Democrat who has one has immediately set about to remove security, safegaurds, etc, to enable massive fraud.

    It’s the scandal of this century, and threatens to undermine our entire electoral system, since fewer and fewer elections are run clean, thanks to a willingness to do anything, up to and including criminal behavior by the democrats, to win. “Win at any cost” is new Democrat mantra. Why? That’s what tyrants, dictators, and sociopaths believe.

  8. Tea Partier says:

    “You mean it’s gonna look like 50 Minnesotas, only easier? Sur-effing-prize!”

    Yup. Where Democrats win after nakedly stealling votes and manufacturing votes and so on. Franken never won the popular vote in Minnesota, the party simply manufactured votes, going so far as to have more votes that registered voters in districts, until they got a count that was ahead, and then immediately declared victory, with corrupt Democrats in every level to “authenticate” massive fraud.

    Anyone defending Franken’s win is either ignorant, or wholly corrupt. But, this is what they intend, every race, from now on. Full court, 100% fraud, anything necessary to win. After all, it’s not what the people vote for, it’s who counts the votes, that matter to a Democrat.

  9. sam says:

    Uh, Doug, why even include the race in Alaska in the question of who controls the Senate post-election, since, unless McAdams score some kind of miracle, the seat will remain Republican?

  10. sam says:

    “Alaska seems to be the one where post-election litigation and vote counting disputes would be most likely ”

    But, but Tea Partier and floyd say that it’ll be Democrat shenanigans that will engender all the litigation and the two folks in the bear brawl up there will be Republicans. You mean TPer and floyd could be wrong???

  11. mpw280 says:

    And again tano shows idiocy, he has never looked at Chicago voting, Minnesota voting or any big city where there has been a close race won by democrats in after hours elections. Talk about stupidity. Hell this flipping administration can’t even prosecute blatant voter intimidation. What do you think they will do about vote fixing in this election? Blink and nod just like the Chicago machine has done for 50 years. Just keep sucking on that kool-aid iv you have working while real voter disenfranchisement is going on rather than the fake voter disenfranchisement the dem party is touting. Soon you won’t have a vote that counts and then you won’t be able to fix that problem. When you are a serf to the system you will wonder why. mpw

  12. floyd says:

    “You mean … floyd could be wrong???”

    Could you? You Inferred from what I wrote that I implied that “Mail It In” would only be an opportunity for “Democrat shenanigans”.

  13. wr says:

    Let’s see: Republicans = Baby Jesus. Democrats = Satan.

    Really guys, it’s that easy. You don’t have to risk carpal tunnel blathering out whichever nonsense occurs to you today. Your guys are Rinso pure and we’re eeeeeviillll!


  14. mpw280 says:

    wr answer this: are you better off today that you were four years ago?

    Probably not.

    Vote dem and go further behind.

    End of story……


  15. wr says:

    I’m sorrry, did you want me to answer that? Or was I just supposed to let you answer for me, so that you could continue to live in your fantasy world — you know, the one that, unlike the real one, wasn’t destroyed by Republicans.

    I have voted for one Republican in my life — John Anderson in 1980. And I will never vote for another.

  16. Juneau: says:

    @ wr

    I have voted for one Republican in my life — John Anderson in 1980. And I will never vote for another.

    Good, we don’t want you. We prefer folks with a spine and enough common sense to know when to say “No.”

  17. Franklin says:

    Disadvantages of absentee voting are noted.

    However, one advantage of significant absentee voting is the reduced effect of exit polling on the actual vote. On the other hand, now that we have Nate Silver and company, we usually have a pretty accurate idea of what the result is going to be anyway.

  18. Tano says:


    I didn’t mean to ask you about mail-in voting – I am not much of a fan of that either. And that seems to be the bulk of your objections, at least as per your response to my question.

    I intended to ask you about basic early voting – having an polling places open for a week or two before election day. That is what I thought you were objecting to in the first place.

    “intimidation, multiple votes, counterfieting, destruction of mail, mail fraud, delayed results,documentation fraud.”

    And even with mail-in…what real world experience do you have to claim that mail fraud, for instance, is in any sense a problem? Or destroying the mail? Do you know of any cases of that?
    Multiple votes? Counterfeiting? (I guess you need to do the latter in order to enact the former). What evidence do you have that any races have suffered from this?

    Delayed results is not a problem of course, at least not in the sense of some great injustice being perpetrated. And documentation fraud would be as much a problem in a traditional voting place on Election day, as on any other day.

    Help me out here. I have an open mind on this. I do believe that fair elections are essential, so if you can point me to real world cases, not just theoretical descriptions or typical ranting points, then I might be persuaded.

  19. sam says:


    ‘You Inferred from what I wrote that I implied that “Mail It In” would only be an opportunity for “Democrat shenanigans”.’

    I did. If you meant equal opportunity shenanigans, sorry. (But, in my defense, you will admit that you’ve never had a good thing to say about Democrats here and thus the inference wasn’t all that farfetched.)

  20. Tea Partier says:

    @sam : ” If you meant equal opportunity shenanigans, sorry.”

    It would be laughable to think that the GOP in any way commits sanctioned vote fraud. It’s established fact that the Democrats do, and are engaged to massively do so this election.

  21. floyd says:

    Ted Kennedy is a statesman, remember that!