An election night PSA: Virginia is weird when it comes to reporting election results
Last edited Wed Oct 28, 2020, 08:16 AM - Edit history (2)
This is so people don't freak out. When the polls close in VA the early counts is going to show stronger support for Trump than he actually has. That is because initial reporting at 7:30 EST may not include mail in ballots in all precincts. Precincts are required to include all mail in ballots that have been processed in the 11:00 EST report.
So results will look "bad" initially and for the first couple hours in VA. Either it will show Trump ahead or Biden ahead by less than expected. Things should look more realistic after 11 PM EST.
I bring this up because VA polls close relatively early and it starts reporting relatively early so it may be one of the first few states showing results election evening. Uninformed people may be freaking out about how "Biden is barely doing better than Clinton" and what it means nationally. Just remember that prior to 11 PM the returns don't include all processed mail in ballots yet.
Below is the entry regarding Virginia from the National Council of State Legislatures:
Before Election Day as needed to expedite counting absentee ballots.
Ballots may be inserted into ballot-counting machines prior to the closing of the polls, but no ballot count totals by the machines shall be initiated until the polls close.
If absentee ballots are counted by hand, tallying may begin after 3 p.m. on Election Day. Vote counts may not be reported until after the polls close.
As a VA resident, what I have observed is that the smaller, typically rural, precincts get their totals to the state BOE earlier in the evening, meaning that Republicans usually start off in a lead and later in the evening when DC area, Tidewater and Richmond area ballots come in, the Democrats catch up.
My understanding of absentee ballots and early voting is that this data is scanned into the local system, just like election day but they don't total any data until the polls close on election day.
You can check vote results at a very granular level. In 2016, Trump maintained a lead in Virginia for several hours, but checking the website revealed that blue areas of Northern Virginia had not yet reported their votes. When the Northern Virginia votes came in, the lead shifted to Clinton, as expected.