When will you know if Biden or Trump wins? Look to these battleground states

A record number of Americans — more than 59 million — have returned absentee ballots for the general election, after states expanded mail voting in an attempt to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Now, election officials just have to count them all.

But in some of the states that could decide the presidential race, election officials aren’t allowed to process, must less tally, mail ballots before election day. When America learns the final results could depend on when ballots are due and when they can be counted.

Some battleground states, such as Arizona and Florida, have long histories with absentee voting and have adopted laws to start at least the initial stages of ballot processing — like opening envelopes and checking signatures — early. Other states don’t allow ballots to be processed or counted until election day or the day before.


And Republicans nationally and in several states — including Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin — have fought extended legal battles over added voter access and whether ballots postmarked by election day can be counted after Nov. 3. In 2016, President Trump carried Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania by razor-thin margins.

Election officials have emphasized that it’s more important to get an accurate and complete count than a speedy one, but Trump and his campaign have claimed otherwise. As part of his attacks on mail voting and his efforts to cast doubt on the legitimacy of an election in which polls show him behind, the president has falsely suggested that counting ballots after election day violates U.S. law, when in fact it is the norm.

“It would be very, very proper and very nice if a winner were declared on Nov. 3, instead of counting ballots for two weeks, which is totally inappropriate,” Trump said Tuesday. Experts say that’s just not true; results are never finalized on election night.


After months of policy changes and lawsuits, here are the rules on when ballots are due and can be processed in the battleground states:

Arizona (11 electoral votes)

Excuse needed to vote absentee? No.

When are ballots due? Must be received by 7 p.m. Nov. 3.

When are ballots processed? Signature verification happens upon receipt. Vote tallying may begin 14 days before the election, but results may not be released until polls close.


Arizona residents have been voting by mail for decades, and the state allows people to permanently sign up to receive absentee ballots. The state is also familiar with the extended counting period that comes with mail ballots — it took six days for the Associated Press to call the 2018 Senate race for Kyrsten Sinema.