Elections are never a one-day affair

As I’m writing this, votes are still being counted in several states, including Pennsylvania. Georgia officials have just announced a recount will be needed as the results there are too close for an official call.

With that in mind, we may not have a decision on our nation’s next president by the time this column is published, or even by the time you are reading it. There may not be a decision by early next week, for that matter.

In reality, while not common, it’s also not an unusual situation, despite the imagery the United States has been able to project for much of modern history.

Let’s remember that the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore wasn’t decided for 35 days. That length was the result of issues with the types of ballots used in some states, as well as Gore’s request for a manual recount of the votes before he would concede.

In 1824, when we weren’t necessarily tied down to the idea of a formalized two-party system, the electoral votes were split among four individuals — Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, William Crawford and Henry Clay — with no one having the majority. With that, the decision went to the House of Representatives. After some politicking, along with allegations of corruption, the vote went to Adams.

In 1800, when the election was actually held during parts of both October and November (times were much different then), the electoral ballots weren’t opened until the following February, revealing a tie vote between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. The House of Representatives took more than a week, voting 36 times, in an attempt to break the tie, eventually going with Jackson. Burr became vice president because, at the time, the Constitution stipulated that post went to the runner-up.

We also must not forget 1876, when the nation waited four months to learn the results. You might want to look that one up and compare it to this year’s events.

In 1916, votes were tallied for a full week after the Nov. 7 election before it was decided Woodrow Wilson had won. His opponent, Charles Evan Hughes, formally conceded Nov. 22.

Elections are never a one-day event. Most of the time, they are broken down into at least three distinct phases, more if you take into account the campaign activity prior to any actual voting.

The main areas of an election, though, from a voter’s perspective are the actual process of voting, the activities of election day and the process of counting the votes.

In today’s culture of instant gratification and a constant flow of information, though, we’ve come to believe everything is decided in just a few hours.

Even local elections are not officially decided in this manner. You might have all of the votes cast and even tabulated, but none of it is official until a canvassing board is formed to review the ballots and totals, and the governing body certifies the results.

We make it seem simple, but it is a complicated system, made even more complicated by current events and the political rhetoric across the nation as part of this year’s election.

At some point, a decision will be made. I’m sure there will be a lot of people upset no matter the outcome. There may be more legal challenges. There probably will be some social unrest. But, eventually, there will need to be acceptance. After all, it’s only four more years until the next election.

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)


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