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Why We May Not Know Which Party Controls the House Until December

California counts slowly, very slowly

Voters mark their ballots at the Lafayette Park Gymnasium polling station in the 2018 midterm general election in Los Angeles, California, USA, 06 November 2018. Voters across the nation are selecting who will represent them on local, state and national levels.Voters cast ballots in the 2018 miidterm elections, Los Angeles, USA - 06 Nov 2018

Voters mark their ballots at the Lafayette Park Gymnasium polling station in the 2018 midterm general election in Los Angeles.

Mike Nelson/EPA-EFE/REX Shutterstock

Election Day is an anxiety-producing exercise. But what if today’s feelings of dread and indecision were to stretch past Thanksgiving? There’s a real possibility we won’t know which party will control Congress until December — because of California’s glacial pace of counting ballots.

To the contrary, we could know which party has won almost as soon as the polls close on the East Coast tonight. If there’s a Blue Wave, we’ll see it in races in Pennsylvania and New York and Florida. Likewise, if Trump’s racist closing arguments trigger a Red Tide, we’ll know within hours.

But if the election is tight — with one or two seats determining control of Congress — then the race will almost certainly come down to California, where as many as 11 seats are in play, with five rated pure toss-ups.

Consider this 2016 squeaker: Two years ago, Election Night was November 8th. But Rep. Darrell Issa’s reelection to a seat near San Diego wasn’t called by the Associated Press until November 28th. Or look at the results from California’s June 5th primary this year. Harley Rouda was not declared the victor in his bid to challenge Rep. Dana Rohrabacher until June 27th, more than three weeks later.

The Rouda/Rohrabacher race is now a general election toss-up and “could take weeks to resolve” according to New York Times elections guru Nate Cohn.

In this general election, California’s county elections officials have until December 6th to finish their official counts.

What makes the state so slow? The system prioritizes voters. Absentee ballots can be postmarked through election day — and can arrive up to three days after in-person balloting has ended. Misdirected absentee ballots can be shuffled around the state for another four days after that. And a new provision of state law gives voters whose signature match is challenged by polling officials a full eight days to reaffirm their ballots.

If the vote count is tight, America could experience a House version of the 2000 presidential election, in which George W. Bush wasn’t declared the victor until December 12th. But don’t worry. We’re sure if midterm election overtime draws out for weeks, or even a month, President Trump will remain extremely chill and not invent conspiracy theories about the legitimacy of elections in the Golden State.

Happy waiting!


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