It’s been a long election season in an unprecedented year. A global pandemic, a national reckoning on racial justice, and economic instability have dominated headlines and impacted our daily lives. Our notion of normalcy is ever-changing, and fatigue and frustration have set in for many after spending a majority of the year sheltered at home.

But if ever there was a need to exercise patience, it’s now.

This election is on track to having the highest turnout in a century at 65 percent of the voting population.

On this election night, we cannot expect to watch the final results play out on live TV as we have in years past. It may take days, or even weeks, to declare a clear winner—and that’s OK. With a record number of voters casting their ballots by mail this year, we must allow for the process to play out to ensure that every vote is counted.  

More than 97 million Americans voted early in 2020, dwarfing early voting numbers in 2016, and this election is on track to having the highest turnout in a century at 65 percent of the voting population. Low-propensity voters, particularly women of color, have requested mail-in ballots at record-setting numbers. This is what we want in a healthy democracy: accessibility. But we must also demand accuracy.

Naturally, mail-in ballots take longer to count than ballots cast at polling places. Each state has its own rules for how votes are counted and reported, which means some will report results sooner than others. But any results reported on election night will be based on votes cast in person, as mail-in votes continue to be counted. A candidate could easily win a majority of the in-person ballots but ultimately lose once all the mail-in ballots are added.

It may take days, or even weeks, to declare a clear winner—and that’s OK. With a record number of voters casting their ballots by mail this year, we must allow for the process to play out to ensure that every vote is counted.

In key states, such as Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, the margin of victory is expected to be slim, making it difficult to identify a clear winner until each mail-in vote is counted. It takes 270 electoral votes to secure the White House. These states account for 101 combined.

In a year that has repeatedly tested our collective patience, this is the ultimate test—and we cannot afford to fail. Stay calm. Stay focused. Every vote must be counted to ensure the integrity of our democratic process—and that the will of the people prevails.