A record number of Delawareans have returned mail-in ballots. State elections officials have gotten a jump on processing them.
Early voting nationwide ahead of Tuesday’s election has shattered past records, and put the U.S. on track for a historic level of turnout overall.
As of Monday, roughly 160,000 Delawareans had returned mail-in or absentee ballots for the General Election—more than a third of the total votes cast in the 2016 General Election.
Roughly 30,000 additional voters requested mail-in or absentee ballots, and have until 8pm Tuesday to put them in a drop box or return them to the county elections office that issued them.
With a temporary no-excuse vote-by-mail system instituted this year because of the pandemic, Delaware has blown past its previous absentee voting records. In the 2016 General Election, just around 25,000 people voted absentee, according to the Delaware Department of Elections.
Delaware Election Commissioner Anthony Albence says his department has been processing the mail-in ballots as they come in this year—which involves checking the signatures on the envelopes, unfolding the ballots, sorting them, and scanning them. The ballots are then ready to be tabulated, or counted, right when the polls close on election night.
“We want to be sure that we have as many results available as soon as possible after the polls close,” said Albence. “Being able to process them in advance and getting everything ready is key to that.”
Albence expects to get the “overwhelming majority” of votes reported within hours of the polls closing. The mail-in votes processed ahead of time will be the first to be reported online, followed by the results from polling places.
“The one item that’s a little bit of a question mark is we don’t know [the size of] that last group of mail that will come into the Postal Service, ‘cause we’re going to have something come in in the evening, shortly before polls close,” Albence said.
Even so, Delaware is not expected to experience a lag in election results this year, as will likely happen in some other states.
That’s in part because mail-in ballots received after the close of polls cannot be counted in Delaware.
“We have a lot more tools at our disposal,” said Albence. “Again, the ability to prepare those ballots much earlier, get them ready and get them prepared to be tabulated—that’s a huge plus for us that a lot of other states don’t have.”
Voters who requested a mail-in ballot but choose to vote at a polling place Tuesday can have their mail-in ballot voided instantaneously, without a poll worker needing to call the elections office as was required during September’s state primary.
“Basically everything is integrated, so that if that mail ballot tried to be returned later, we would already have an indication that the voter had voted in person,” said Albence.
All polling places are open 7am to 8pm Tuesday.