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What to expect on election night: Some races may take longer to call

With some political candidates encouraging voters to wait until Election Day to return their ballots, voters may need to wait longer to learn of winning candidates.

VANCOUVER, Wash. — The voting results posted on election night aren't final. Far from it. 

Elections administrators in both Oregon and Washington will still receive thousands of ballots after Tuesday, and those ballots must be checked and verified before being reported.

This year, election officials say it may take longer than usual for some races to be decided, as some candidates are encouraging voters to wait until Election Day to return their ballots.

"Whether that’s through information they’re hearing from any source to hold their ballot until longer, it’s possible we’ll have more counting [than usual] to do on the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday following Election Day," said Stuart Holmes, Washington's state elections director.

In both Oregon and Washington, a ballot will be counted as long as it’s postmarked by Election Day -- or returned to a ballot drop box by 8 pm.

RELATED: How to turn in your ballot in Oregon and Washington

However, it takes time before elections administrators can run all the checks and balances which include verifying signatures, checking voter information, scanning the ballots, and reporting the results.

In Clark County, auditor Greg Kimsey said this trend was evident in August, when Republican congressional candidate Joe Kent received votes that were tallied and reported in the week after Election Day. 

It took several days of vote updates after Election Day before Kent overtook incumbent congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler in the race, sealing a nomination.

"We certainly saw it in the primary this year, the August primary, if you get a large number of people depositing their ballot on Election Day, a disproportionately large number, that also will reduce the number of ballots included in those preliminary election results," Kimsey said. "Now, we’re still going to get them counted by the time we certify, but you might have to wait a couple days longer to get a large number of the ballots."

Kimsey’s opponent in the race for county auditor, Brett Simpson, is one of the candidates encouraging voters to vote last minute. However, he falsely claimed that it’s a strategy to combat voter fraud.

RELATED: Clark County auditor candidate sharing false claims about election fraud

"The second thing is you go and turn it in the last day, wait until the last day to turn in your ballot, that’s why you saw Joe’s count keep going up after," Simpson said at a campaign event for Joe Kent.

Washington elections officials said Simpson’s claims of election fraud are false and unfounded, adding that it makes no difference to the results if a ballot is received on Election Day or in the 18 days before. 

"Although encouraging people to hold their ballot until Election Day isn’t against the rules, suggesting at any time that the ‘bad guys’ or funny business is happening is flat incorrect," Holmes said. "No matter what time you decide to return your ballot, it’s handled with the exact same level of accountability, security and transparency."

Multnomah County officials told KGW voters can expect about 50 to 60% of votes cast to be reported on Election Night.

In Clark County, Kimsey said about 60% of ballots would normally be reported, but this year it could be as low as 40%. 

Clark County is currently fourth to last in the state in percentage of ballots returned.

RELATED: Here's how Oregon handles election security, and why voter fraud is vanishingly rare

But for voters, waiting for election results is nothing new. Local and state election officials have always had to certify the results in the weeks following the election. 

"What I do believe is voters are a lot more concerned about the accuracy of results than fast results," Kimsey said. 

As of Friday morning, about 29% of registered voters in Oregon and Washington have returned their ballots for the November 2022 election. 

Stuart Holmes, Washington's state elections director, said that turnout is trending close to voting trends from 2018, in which about 71% of registered voters returned their ballots.

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