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It may take days to know the winner of US presidential election — and here’s why

The result of the United States presidential election is on a knife edge; it could swing the way of either the incumbent Donald Trump of Joe Biden, his rival.

The first polls closed as early as 6pm Eastern time while the latest were concluded around 12am Eastern time.

But almost 24 hours after, the outcome still hangs in the balance, and analysts say the exercise might take days — or weeks — to conclude.

Over 130 million votes have so far been counted, but there is an estimated 20 million left.

As of 5 pm Nigerian time, Biden was leading with 238 electoral college votes out of the 270 needed to win, while Trump trailed closely with 213.

What are electoral votes?

Unlike in Nigeria where you only need the simple majority, and at least 25 percent of the votes in two–thirds of the 36 states in the country, the US election is decided by the electoral votes. These are certain number of votes assigned to each state in America partly based on its population, totaling 538. Some states have less than 10 electoral votes while others have more than 30.

In 2016, for instance, Hillary Clinton polled more votes than Trump, but she lost after getting a lesser number of votes from the electoral college. However, pundits have predicted that the final result for the 2020 election would likely come down to key battlegrounds such as Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania — upper-Midwest states where Trump gained grounds in 2016.


Prolonged outcomes are not a new thing in US elections as the states are not used to declaring the final outcome on election night. For instance, in 2008, it took two weeks for Missouri to conclude its counting while in 2012, Florida was called for Barrack Obama only after four days and Michigan for Trump in 2016 after two weeks.

However, this year’s counting will take much longer unlike in previous years as many people voted by mail rather than visiting the polling boots because of the coronavirus pandemic.

And guess what? Such votes could take weeks to count.

AP reported that several states did not have well-established vote-by-mail programmes in place before this year and electoral officials are prohibited from processing the ballots well in advance of election day.

In fact, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin which are battlegrounds with high number of electoral votes have restrictions in place on when the mail vote can be processed.

The New York Times reported that the increase in mail voting could also lead to more provisional votes — from voters whose eligibility to vote is questioned. Such votes are only counted when eligibility is confirmed.

Much of what the media is announcing now are based on trends evident in counting. But when it is a close race as this between Trump and Biden, most of the votes have to be counted to get a clearer picture.

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