You Voted. Now What Happens?

You’ve cast your vote – either by mail, in person, or by dropping it off at a secure ballot box. Now what happens? Maybe you’ve heard rumors of voter fraud, and you aren’t sure your vote will be counted correctly. Fortunately, voting in the United States is a very secure process. We’ve answered some common questions below about what happens after you vote.

Frequently Asked Questions:

If you vote in person, your ballot will be counted after the polls close on Election Day. If you voted with a paper ballot, the ballot box will be sealed until it arrives at a vote counting location. Electronic votes will be sent to the vote counting center as well. 

You may have voted early or absentee by mail. While rules vary slightly from state to state, most states begin counting mailed ballots on Election Day. If your state offers it, you can track your mail-in ballot. 

It takes longer to count mail-in votes. This is normal and nothing to be alarmed by. Mailed ballots must be processed (or “cured”) and counted. Processing a mailed ballot typically includes ensuring that the voter’s signature on the record matches the signature on the outside of the ballot’s envelope. Election officials also check for any damage to the envelope that could suggest tampering with the ballot inside. 

Election officials cannot see the ballot inside when they are processing mail-in ballots. That way, they would not be able to include political bias while they certify ballots. 

Most states may begin to process mail-in ballots before polls close on Election Day, but do not start actually counting the votes until Election Day. Learn more about how your state processes and counts mail-in ballots. 

There are between 7,000 and 10,000 local election officials nationwide who are responsible for counting votes.  

While political parties are not involved in counting votes for a general election, each party may send a vote monitor to the vote counting location. This person may stand in the room while votes are being counted and observe the process. 

For each polling place, vote counters check how many ballots they have against how many individuals signed in to vote at that location. If those numbers are not the same, they will investigate discrepancies and report them back. At every step of the vote-counting  process, they must report out the number of ballots. This prevents anyone from adding additional ballots after voting has ended, or throwing away ballots after they were cast. 

Finally, if the vote is very close, election officials will call a recount to double check their work. Each vote matters, and the recount ensures that each vote will be counted correctly.

It can take days or even weeks to know the results of an election. This is normal – voting by mail is much more common than it used to be, and processing mail-in ballots takes more time. 

If there are any disputes about a person’s eligibility to vote, that individual can cast a provisional ballot. The provisional ballot will only be counted if the voter is determined to be eligible. Election officials may have to conduct an investigation to determine the voter’s eligibility, which may delay the vote results temporarily. Learn more about provisional ballots and your right to vote. 

Some states require all mail-in ballots to arrive no later than Election Day to be counted. But some states require mail-in ballots to be postmarked by Election Day, meaning that some ballots that arrive after Election Day will be counted. This might cause the vote tally to change after Election Day. Find our your state’s deadlines for mail-in ballots 

If a race is too close to call — or the difference between candidates is below a certain threshold — election officials will conduct a recount. This may involve running the ballots through machines again or, in some cases, a ‘hand recount’ manually tallying ballots.

A candidate may declare themselves the winner of a race while votes are still being counted. You can check your state’s elections website or respected news sources, like the Associated Press, for up-to-date vote counts. A winner will be declared after all votes are counted or it’s clear that a candidate will win based on their lead and the number of votes left to count. 

No elected officials will be sworn in until the votes are certified and every vote is counted. 

Widespread voter fraud is a myth. Actual voter fraud is very rare. Most reported instances of voter fraud are due to administrative errors or bad data practices.

It is more likely that an American will be struck by lightning than they will impersonate another voter at the polls.