Election results are finalized through processes called canvassing and certification. Canvassing generally refers to how state and local officials confirm the validity of ballots cast in an election. Certification is the process authorities use to formalize the election results based on the canvass. However, some states, localities, and commentators use the terms interchangeably to describe the entire process of counting ballots and formalizing results.
Election result certification deadlines are set in state law. Certification deadlines for the 2020 election are as follows:
- The certification deadline in six states is within one week of the election.
- In 26 states and the District of Columbia, the certification deadline is between November 10 and November 30.
- In 14 states, the certification deadline is in December.
- Four states (Hawaii, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Tennessee) do not have statutory deadlines for results certification.
What about recounts? A recount is a process by which votes cast in an election are re-tabulated to verify the accuracy of the original results. Recount laws vary by state, but the two most common types of recounts are automatically triggered and requested. In 20 states, results within a certain margin of victory automatically trigger a recount process. In 43 states, candidates, political parties, and voters (varies by state) may request a recount. In the event that a recount occurs, the effects of the election are put on hold until the recount is resolved.
The exact timing of when a recount can be triggered or requested also varies by state. Some states allow for recounts to occur after canvassing but before results are made official through certification. Other states require both the canvassing and certification of results before beginning a recount process
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