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How long will it take to count ballots on Election Day?

The increase in voting by mail is expected to add to the tabulation time nationwide

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — With an increase in people planning to vote early, absentee, or by mail during this election cycle, Election Day could stretch well into the night, week or even month. Despite a push from many, including President Trump, for election results to be clear the night of Nov. 3, there are many reasons that is unlikely to happen.

How long will it take for Missouri and Illinois votes to be totaled? Neither state begins to actually tabulate, or count, votes until Nov. 3. That includes all ballots, whether they are cast in person or arrive at an election authority by mail. 

In Missouri, election workers are usually able to get all ballots counted well before midnight on Election Day. Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft said a bulk of mailed ballots plus some close races mean it might take a bit longer this year, but he does not expect a major delay on Nov. 3.

“I think we will know who wins on Tuesday night,” Ashcroft said. “I'm cautiously optimistic. I'm very optimistic that if it isn't before you go to bed on Tuesday night, it'll be before you wake up on Wednesday morning.” 

KNOW TO VOTE: How to track your ballot

Part of Ashcroft's cautious optimism is due to Missouri's election laws. A voter's mail ballot will only be counted if it makes it to the election authority by Nov. 3. 

However, in Illinois, Nov. 3 is the deadline for voters to drop their ballots in the mail. As a result, ballots could still be rolling in through Nov. 17 and votes will still need to be counted two weeks after Election Day.

RELATED: Why the presidential election could take a month or more to decide

The timelines and elections laws vary around the country, from state to state and among local voting jurisdictions. During every election cycle, some election authorities count votes faster than others. 

The increase in voting by mail is expected to add to the tabulation time nationwide. Processing mailed votes simply takes longer, and close races might require re-counts. However, voting officials around the country have said it is better to wait a little longer for an accurate count than to rush to results that might not actually lead to declaring a winner. 

“There's just really a rigorous process so everybody can have faith in how it's done,” said Ashcroft.

Know to Vote

Voter registration deadlines

The deadline to register to vote in Missouri for the Nov. 3 election is Oct. 7. 

In Illinois, voters can also register online until Oct. 18. Illinois voters must also live in their election precincts at least 30 days prior to Election Day. The registration deadline you may hear most often, though, is Oct. 6, which is the last day to go to a government office and register in person, or mail in a form.

In Missouri and Illinois, you need to be a citizen, a resident of that state, be 18 years old by Election Day, and not have had your voting privileges restricted.

How you register can vary greatly between the states. In both states, voters can also mail in an application by printing out a pdf form from the respective state's website and mailing it in. In Missouri, you can also register in person with your local election authority or government services office, like a DMV branch.