clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How the US counts votes

The US doesn’t have one election. It has 3,141.

Liz Scheltens is a senior editorial producer for the Vox video team.

In a normal presidential election year, many Americans go from casting their vote before work in the morning to turning off the TV before bed, secure in their knowledge of who will lead the country for the next four years. But in 2020, there’s a better-than-average chance that won’t happen.

Even before the coronavirus struck, Americans were increasingly voting early or by mail. But in 2020, these numbers are expected to skyrocket, which means states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which don’t start counting mail-in ballots until Election Day, probably won’t have results for several days. This year, voters are facing a pandemic, a deliberately underfunded Postal Service, and the closure of thousands of polling locations in battleground states such as Georgia, Ohio, Arizona, and Texas.

In this video, we take a comprehensive dive into how states count votes. Each of the 3,141 counties in the US has its own rules, but there are some basic steps that are mostly the same across the country. Whether you’re voting in person early or on Election Day, by mail or by dropping off your ballot, we break down some of the differences and similarities in how and when states collect, verify, process, and count votes.

Once you understand how votes are counted, it’s clear just how important each vote really is.

Further reading:

This video is the ninth in our series on the 2020 election. We aren’t covering the horse race; instead, we want to explain the stakes of the election through the issues that matter most to you.

You can find this video and all of Vox’s videos on YouTube. And if you’re interested in supporting our video journalism, you can become a member of the Vox Video Lab on YouTube.