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OpinionColumnistsDan Janison

Fussing and fighting over vote counts is as American as the two-party system

Election judges wearing masks and face shields in

Election judges wearing masks and face shields in St. Paul, Minn., process early-voting ballots Monday to be counted after the polls close on Tuesday. Credit: EPA / Craig Lassig

Sometimes you just have to wait.

Ten elections ago, it took from Nov. 2 until Dec. 4 to declare the winner of a mere State Senate race in Nassau County. The final legal appeals did not end until Christmas week.

Local residents may remember it as the year Republican Jack Martins of Mineola unseated Democrat Craig Johnson of Port Washington in the 7th Senate District. Much of New York State kept tabs as the weeks dragged on because Albany's Senate majority hinged on it. The GOP came out just on top in the upper chamber, 32-30, once Martins' victory by a few hundred votes was secured.

Ten years earlier came the much more famous monthlong series of legal battles over Florida that led to the U.S. Supreme Court's controversial resolution of Bush v. Gore in the presidential election. Vote counts were stopped by a 5-4 ruling. Declarations of victory and concessions of defeat proved premature. Instant gratification was denied.

As with other institutions, President Donald Trump does not take it on himself to defend or improve the U.S. electoral system, which is mainly in the hands of states. Time after time, he does what he can to raise self-interested doubts about its workings, including the U.S. Postal Service's ability to deliver mail on time.

Trump leaves it to others to make the balloting credible.

Presidential threats and rants about fraud, counting, mail, challenges and early victory claims are the most unusual features of 2020 so far. But Trump's noise may in the end be as irrelevant as usual.

The people cannot know in advance if the wait for results will be short or long or how close the contest will be, or where. There are many moving parts when it comes to the Electoral College, as there are with voting in a pandemic.

If key states' margins prove to be close, the counts will be legitimately complex and suspenseful, particularly because of the changes in turnout and early voting. That’s the system. Challenging the validity of in-person and absentee ballots for a wide range of reasons can be typical depending on the circumstances. Ballot challenges usually occur only when the results as recorded are too close to call.

The only thing for most people to do once the vote is over Tuesday is to hear the early reports, and watch and wait, one battleground state at a time. Not everything about this election is abnormal. Leaping to conclusions, relying on dark suspicion and pinning hopes on chest-thumping noise — all those impatient reactions will be as pointless as ever.

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