The 2020 election will be no different in this regard, but it may take a lot longer to get from step 1 to step 3. The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred many more people to cast their ballots early to avoid crowds on Election Day. In many states, including some of the most competitive “battleground” states, early votes may take days to fully process and report, so it is quite possible that a clear winner may not emerge on November 3.
The huge interest in early voting is reflected in the spike in requests for mail-in ballots this year. More than 80 million mail-in ballots have been sent to voters by mid-October 2020, more than twice as many as in the whole of 2016. If the return rates equal those from 2016, some 55 million ballots could be returned and recorded in 2020.