Watch CBS News

Reality Check: Will America Know Who Wins The Presidential Election On Election Night?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- There's a very good chance America won't​ know who wins the presidential election on election night. Not because of fraud, but because of COVID-19.

Not​ knowing who won when we go to bed? That's an American tradition, too.

It was 3 a.m. when broadcast networks called the race for Donald Trump in 2016, before all the votes were officially counted.

The White House says that's the way it's supposed​ to be, but mail-in ballots could delay​ the outcome.

"What we want election night to look like is a system that's fair," said White House Press Secretary Kayley McEnemy. "A situation where we know who the president of the United States is on election night. That's how the system is supposed to work."

In fact, there's no law that says a winner must be declared on voting day. The United States Constitution sets out a process that can last for weeks, and sometimes, it does -- like in 2000.

It's 20 years since the titanic presidential election between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore. Broadcast networks reversed​ their projection call that night, and Gore withdrew his public concession. It took 36 days​ to count all the ballots and certify Bush the winner.

What's different in 2020? The fear of catching COVID-19. Millions say they will skip in-person voting, which is tabulated quickly. They are opting instead for mail-in ballots, which take days to process.

A new Emerson College Poll shows 58% of Americans plan to vote in person, and 65% of them support Republican President Trump.

But 43% will vote by mail, and most of them​ support Democrat Joe Biden.

That could create what experts call a "red mirage." Early results of in-person voting could​ show Trump with an election night lead, but mail-in votes tabulated later could swing it to Biden.

Minnesota and Wisconsin are getting record numbers of absentee ballot requests. Ballots in both states must be postmarked by Election Day, but can be received up to seven days later in Minnesota.

And six days later in Wisconsin, though that could be appealed.

That's Reality Check.

Here Are Some Of The Sources We Used For This Reality Check:
View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.