LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Tuesday is Election Day, but how long will it take until we know who wins?

The maddening wait to see election results will be different from the 2020 election — potentially, faster. In 2020, hours became days. But this year, the wheels should turn faster.

With primaries and a general election under its belt, Nevada has experience with mail ballots that it lacked when mail became the most logical way to handle an election under COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. The sheer volume of mail ballots presents a much bigger job for processing the votes. The tasks are the same with handling absentee ballots, but the amount of work is far greater because of the number of mail ballots.

An early start

This time around, Nevada counties were allowed to start tabulating votes before Election Day. In 2020, that all waited until after voting ended. The tasks of verifying signatures and cross-checking ballots for double votes can be slow going, so a good amount of work has been done ahead of Election Day.

To clarify, the tabulation process prepares votes for counting. No results for candidates or ballot questions have been counted. But the time-consuming task of processing the ballots is being tackled earlier, and that could mean a shorter wait to see the results on election night. The tasks that are now done as ballots are received:

  • Record receipt of each mail ballot
  • Place rejected mail ballots in a separate envelope, along with the reason it was rejected
  • Document chain of custody of the mail ballot

At that point, batches of mail ballots are delivered to the mail ballot central counting board, where these tasks are handled:

  • Sort mail ballots by precinct or voting district
  • Count the number of ballots
  • Account for all mail ballots

The details of the process are laid out in a 147-page revised regulation published on Aug. 24.

The calendar

You might think that the process ends on Tuesday night. But rules for mail ballots state that the vote must be postmarked on Election Day — the U.S. Postal Service gets time to deliver the ballots.

In close election contests, those votes could potentially decide whether a candidate wins or loses. That deadline is Saturday, Nov. 12 at 5 p.m.

So that’s when we’re done, right? Well, you’d think so. But they would need time to process and count those ballots, too. There are several more deadlines on a calendar published by the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office, including a Nov. 14 deadline for curing signatures.

Then there are deadlines for post-election vote audits and several other steps required in each election. But they all lead up to a Nov. 22 megadeadline:

  • Nov. 14, Signature cure deadline – (not later than 5 p.m. on the 6th day following the election)
    Last day for a voter to provide a signature or confirmation or to otherwise cure the signature to have a mail ballot be counted.
  • Nov. 17, Postelection audit and certification of VVPATS (voter-verified paper audit trail) – (not later than 7 working days after the election)
    After each election, County Clerks/Registrars of Voters shall conduct post-election VVPAT audits and transmit the results to the Secretary of State.
  • Nov. 17, Transmit abstract and mechanized report to Secretary of State – (not later than 7 working days after the General Election)
    The County Clerk/Registrar of Voters shall send a copy of the certified abstract and mechanized report of the abstract to the Secretary of State.
  • Nov. 18, Canvass of the general election returns – (on or before the 10th working day following the General Election)
    During this period the Board of County Commissioners shall canvass the returns, from all precincts and districts within the county, of the General Election. Counties must wait until the postmark receipt date and provisional ballots have been processed.
  • Nov. 22, Election contest for local candidates if no recount demanded – (no later than 14 days after the election)
    For contests involving offices other than for Governor, Lt. Governor, Legislator, Justice of the Supreme Court or Judge of the Court of Appeals, the last day to file a statement of contest with the District Court Clerk if no recount is demanded.
  • Nov. 22, Election contest for statewide candidates if no recount demanded – (no later than 14 days after the election)
    For contests involving offices for Governor, Lt. Governor, Legislator, Justice of the Supreme
    Court or Judge of the Court of Appeals, the last day to file a statement of contest with the Secretary of State if no recount is demanded.
  • Nov. 22, Members of Supreme Court to canvass votes – (the 4th Tuesday in November)
    On this date, the Justices of the Supreme Court, or a majority thereof, shall meet with the Secretary of State to canvass the vote.
  • Nov. 22, (after the official canvass) Governor’s proclamation
    The governor shall issue certificates of election and shall issue proclamations declaring election of candidates.

On Nov. 25, (within 3 working days after the canvass for the General Election) any demands for recounts must be filed.

So many deadlines.

It might not feel like we’re past the election until Dec. 8 — the deadline for campaign signs to come down.