Post-election timeline: everything you need to know

By: - November 5, 2020 6:37 pm

Despite the uncertainty over the timeline of when Pennsylvanians will receive conclusive election results (and some Americans even choosing not to shower in anticipation of a winner being declared), there are still important deadlines that the state has to meet in order to officially complete an election cycle.

Here is everything you need to know about the upcoming weeks after an election.

What’s the timeline after the election?

The first of the major deadlines deals with the election result canvassing from county election officials and the subsequent certification of those results by a state executive. This date varies from state to state.

Canvassing is the process by which each county’s return board reviews unofficial election results.

In Pennsylvania, Nov. 23 is the final day “for the county boards of elections to file with the secretary of the commonwealth returns from the November election,” according to the Pennsylvania Department of State’s Election Calendar. If there is a recount, the last day is Nov. 25. 

The next important date is the ‘safe harbor’ deadline on Dec. 8. By this date, states must have settled election disputes to have their electors chosen for the Electoral College. If this deadline is missed, Congress could challenge a state’s electoral appointments, according to the National Task Force on Election Crises, a bipartisan group of national election experts. 

This all comes to a head on Dec. 14 at noon when Pennsylvania’s presidential electors meet in Harrisburg to cast their vote in the Electoral College. By this day, Federal law states that every state’s election certification process must be completed.

On Jan. 3, new members of the 117th Congress will be sworn into office.

While the Electoral College meets on Dec. 14, the winner of the presidential election is not officially formalized until Congress meets and counts the electoral votes on Jan. 6.

And of course, a new presidential term begins on Jan. 20.

What is Pennsylvania’s protocol for a recount?

As of Thursday evening, President Donald Trump has already requested a recount in the state of Wisconsin, where the two candidates are separated by less than 1 percent of the vote.

The race continues to be similarly close in Nevada and Georgia where the candidates are currently separated by 0.9 percent and 0.2 percent of the vote respectively, according to the New York Times. 

With more than 300,000 ballots still to be counted in Pennsylvania, the race could be close in the commonwealth, too. 

So what would a recount look like in Pennsylvania? 

Unlike Wisconsin, Pennsylvania election law requires recounts when the margin for a statewide office or ballot measure is less than or equal to 0.5 percent of the total vote. 

An automatic recount can also be triggered in the event of discrepancies in returns from any of the state’s election districts. 

The Capital-Star requested comment from the Department of State about what discrepancies might trigger a recount, but there was no response as of this reporting. 

Pennsylvania also allows for recounts to be requested by voters and candidates.

While candidates cannot file a direct recount request, they can appeal to the courts, which will then determine whether or not a recount is necessary. 

Such requesters must pay for all recount costs unless the recount reveals significant error or fraud, according to Ballotpedia, a nonpartisan online election encyclopedia.

There is no deadline in place for voter-requested recounts to be completed by.

Are there ongoing legal challenges in the state that may delay the vote count?

Yes! In fact, the two court rulings involving the Trump campaign caused two delays today.


The Trump campaign has several ongoing cases involving Pennsylvania that could very likely continue to cause slower returns in the coming days even as an unofficial winner becomes clear.

However, according to legal experts cited by the Washington Post, the Trump campaign’s goal to get the courts to stop the count is not realistic.

You can follow important cases here on the Pennsylvania Courts website.

Are there any protests or rallies planned?

Pennsylvanians wanting election officials to ‘Count Every Vote’ were out protesting across Pennsylvania in areas like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia to ensure that every vote is counted.

With the Trump campaign making false claims without evidence regarding widespread voter fraud, Trump supporters have also been out around the commonwealth demanding that the count be stopped.

There have been conflicting tones from pro-Trump protesters in several battleground states as some demand a stop to the count and others demand that election officials keep counting.

The protests are expected to continue throughout Pennsylvania as ballots are still being tallied in battleground states across the country.

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