A primer on what to expect between November 3 and January 20

We are in the home stretch of an election that—like so much in 2020—has been and will continue to be unlike any before it. With an unprecedented tens of millions of Americans expected to vote by mail this year, and with many states prohibiting counting until Election Day, it may be days or even weeks before we know the outcomes.

That’s cause for preparation and patience—but not concern.


Here’s what you need to know about what’s ahead.

Fast Facts

More than 60 million voters—39% of all voters—are projected to vote by mail this year. That would be nearly double the 33 million mail-in votes (20.9%) in 2016 and 23 million mail-in votes (18.5%) in 2012.

4 states (including swing states Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) must wait until Election Day to begin processing mail-in ballots; 20 states may continue to receive ballots after Election Day, so long as they’re postmarked on or before Election Day.

8 states have a high likelihood
of an extended tabulation period
before a winner can be declared (including swing state Pennsylvania); 16 states have a medium likelihood.

Lawsuits related to this election have already exceeded past years, continuing a 20-year upward trend following the 2000 election. To date, at least 345 election-related lawsuits have arisen out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

All states have established official procedures to handle election complications. In the event of delays, remember: We have local election officials trained to handle those situations.


Recent History


Keep in mind: Even under normal circumstances, election outcomes often take time to finalize.


In 2000 , it took

35 days

to determine the outcome in the presidential election

In 2016 , it took

34 days

to certify Trump's win in Wisconsin

In 2016 , it took

30 days

to conduct a partial recount in Nevada

In 2018 , it took

12 days

to resolve the Florida senate race

Post-Election Timeline


November 3 - General Election

Polls will close between 6:00 and 9:00 PM depending on the state. All states have chosen to appoint electors based on a popular election.

December 8 - State “Safe Harbor” Deadline

The soft deadline for states to resolve disputes and choose electors to be accepted by Congress.

Decmber 14 - Meeting of Electoral College

Disputes must be resolved and results certified before this meeting.

December 23 - Receipt of Certificate of Electoral Votes Deadline

If Congress has not received a state’s certificate of electoral votes by this date, it must be requested from the secretary of state.

January 3 - New Congress Sworn In


January 6 - Joint Session of Congress to Count Electoral Votes

In the event of a tie, the 12th Amendment provides that the House of Representatives will choose the president and the Senate will choose the vice president.

January 20 - End of Current Presidential Term (Inauguration Day)

If there is no clear winner at noon, the Electoral Count Act provides for an “acting president” until disputes are resolved (the Speaker of the House is first in line).


Foreign actors and cybercriminals could try to exploit the time required to certify and announce election results by disseminating disinformation that includes reports of voter suppression, cyberattacks targeting election infrastructure, voter or ballot fraud, and other problems intended to undermine public perception of the legitimacy of the election.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) have urged Americans to critically evaluate the sources of the information they consume and to seek out reliable and verified information from trusted sources, such as state and local election officials. And remember: If foreign actors or cyber criminals were able to successfully change an election-related website, the underlying data and internal systems would remain uncompromised.


  • Seek out information from trustworthy sources, such as state and local election officials; verify who produced the content; and consider their intent.
  • Verify through multiple reliable sources any reports about problems in voting or election results, and consider searching for other reliable sources before sharing such information via social media or other avenues.
  • For information about final election results, rely on state and local government election officials.
  • Report potential election crimes—such as disinformation about the manner, time, or place of voting—to the FBI.
  • If appropriate, make use of in-platform tools offered by social media companies for reporting suspicious posts that appear to be spreading false or inconsistent information about election-related problems or results.

more tips and information from CISA



For information on how to vote by mail, where to find your precincts, and who’s on the ballot in your states and district, visit our Vote for Jobs voter education tool.