Except for races where there’s a clear winner, it could take two weeks or more for results to be determined in some New Jersey elections.

Election night results are always unofficial but this year’s numbers contain more unknown variables than usual, said Jesse Burns, executive director of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey.

How many early mail-in votes still need to be processed? How many mail-in votes postmarked by yesterday will arrive by next Tuesday and still count? And how many people voted at polling places on provisional ballots that won’t start being counted until next week?

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“There’s a lot of different buckets of ballots that are going to need to be counted, and while we don’t know yet kind of how that’s going to break down, we do know that every single one of those votes is important,” Burns said. “We have to take the time to count them all, so we shouldn’t really expect results I would say until close to the certification deadline in New Jersey of Nov. 20.”

When races are called for one candidate or another that’s done by news organizations such as the Associated Press or television networks, not election officials. Those winners are projected based off partial results, voter registration and historical patterns in past races.

Those types of inferences are more challenging this year because voting patterns have changed due to changes made in response to the pandemic.

Every active voter in New Jersey was mailed a ballot, which ballooned the number of early voters to more than 3.7 million. Those votes began being counted Oct. 24, though tabulations of the number of votes for each candidate couldn’t be produced until polls closed.

But not all the mail-in votes have been counted. Some were being placed in ballot drop boxes around New Jersey until right as polls closed. Others that were sent through the mail will be counted so long as they arrive by next Tuesday and were postmarked by Nov. 3. Ballots without postmarks will be accepted if they arrive at county offices by Thursday.

Mail-in ballots returned Tuesday by voters in person at their hometown polling place may have been counted Tuesday night or will be counted in the coming days.

People who voted in person without a mail-in ballot had to complete provisional paper ballots that won’t be counted until after 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 10, after counties complete processing mail-in votes and can ensure a person doesn’t attempt to vote twice.

Burns said she knows delayed election results can just add more anxiety for people already on edge from the pandemic and social unrest.

“But I think that at the core, our democracy is so incredibly important that it’s just worth waiting for,” Burns said. “We’re going to have to be OK with taking a beat, taking a breath and saying: The results aren’t official yet. We’re going to wait for the official results. It’s going to take some time. But it means that our democracy is working.”

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Some states key to the presidential race, like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, only started counting mail-in votes Tuesday and won’t have results for days.

“A delayed result is a good thing,” Burns said. “It means that we’re taking the time to count every single vote and protect the integrity of our election process.”

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