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Despite all the anticipation, election results may not be clear tonight

It's finally Election Day across the U.S., with ballot drops ending at 8 p.m. in Oregon and Washington. But definitive results may take longer to come out.

PORTLAND, Ore. — It's finally Tuesday, Nov. 8, which means it's Election Day across the United States. It might look different depending on where you are in the country, but in vote-by-mail states like Oregon and Washington, it means that the cutoff time for dropping off ballots or getting them postmarked arrives at 8 p.m. — and then results starting going out.

Typically, election night for the candidates for Oregon governor is something of a sleepy event. While Democrats and Republicans always have their separate gatherings, it's been nearly a foregone conclusion for most of the last 40 years that a Democrat would win comfortably.

But this year, things are different. There is a real chance that Republican Christine Drazan could win, if the polling is to be believed. But there's an even bigger chance that we won't know the final results by late tonight or early tomorrow morning.

RELATED: Oregon gubernatorial candidates make final push for votes on the eve of Election Day

One thing that KGW will be watching for is the possibility of a recount. According to the Oregon Secretary of State's office, an automatic recount is triggered if the vote totals for the two leaders are within 0.2% of the entire number of votes counted.

In 2018, 1,866,997 people voted for governor. If, for example, that same number of people vote in this election, the two vote leaders would need to be within 3,374 votes of one another to trigger an automatic recount. That's a small number in the context of some 1.8 million votes.

If a recount is triggered, every county elections office in Oregon will need to pull out the paper ballots they received and count them all over again.

So what should we expect from election results tonight? Will we know the likely winners of decisive races, or will it be too early to call?

KGW investigative reporter Evan Watson has been talking with election officials in an effort to gain insight on this for the past few weeks. The bottom line: any results that voters get tonight won't be final.

Elections administrators in Oregon and Washington need to receive, check and verify each ballot before it can be reported in the preliminary results. This has always been the case, so it takes weeks for each election to actually be certified. By the Secretary of State's office calendar, there are deadlines to resolve issues and finish certification that extend into late December.

Most races are "called" well before these deadlines because the amount of votes tallied for one side or another are such that the amount of straggler ballots remaining wouldn't be enough to make up the difference. Media outfits experienced in doing that kind of math, like the Associated Press, will make a determination once they feel confident of the outcome. It doesn't mean the vote counting is over, but it likely means that the result is clear.

RELATED: EXPLAINER: How can the AP call races right as polls close?

That said, election officials think voters may need to wait a bit longer this year before they learn who is likely to win a competitive race, and for a few different reasons. For one, Oregon and Washington now allow voters to mail their ballots right up to the last minute, as long as they are postmarked on or before Election Day. This means that elections officials will be receiving, vetting and counting ballots for days to come, producing updated results.

In Multnomah County's May primary, 46% of ballots were received on or after Election Day.

Meanwhile, some candidates are encouraging their supporters to wait until Election Day to drop off their ballots or send them off in the mail. Watson spoke to a few of these candidates. For some, this plan is based on unfounded conspiracies about election fraud — the idea being that waiting until the last minute will counteract fraud attempts, giving the boogeymen less time for shenanigans.

There's been no evidence of any such widespread election fraud great enough to change the results of any race, and these claims have been repeatedly disproven. Regardless, if more voters are waiting until later to get their ballots in, it'll take election workers longer to verify and report votes.

RELATED: Clackamas County to limit release of updated election results

A similar trend emerged in this year's primaries. In some cases it took up to a week after Election Day to show which candidate won — which isn't abnormal, either. It's all part of the system of checks and balances that elections administrators use to make sure the vote is accurate and correct, which has been backed up by numerous post-election audits.

As of Tuesday afternoon, voter turnout in both Oregon and Washington was lower than it was in the 2018 midterm elections. In Washington, ballots received were about 9% lower than at this time in 2018. However, election officials still say they expect voter turnout to reach a relatively normal rate 70%. The only way they'll reach that number is if more ballots are vetted and reported post-Election Day through the mail.

Individual counties will be updating their results at different times. Some plan to update their counts multiple times throughout the evening, while others will post their tallies just once and then issue another update on Wednesday.

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