The countdown until November 2nd grows louder each day, amplified by the chatter of newscasts and personalities and feelings of anticipation. But there is a possibility we may have to wait a while longer to get the results. On the morning of November 3rd, it may still be unclear which party has won control of the House or Senate.
A number of key states might still be counting ballots after Election Day because of increased rates of mail-in voting as well as a newly implemented federal law that requires states to make it easier for military and overseas voters to submit their ballots.
That's right, this could be a long -- very long - election.
In an effort to meet the requirements of the federal MOVE Act, which mandates that states send ballots to military and overseas voters 45 days before the election, Wisconsin will be accepting them 17 days after Election Day. Colorado will give overseas military voters until November 10th for their ballot to arrive. Both states, which went to Obama in 2008, are host to toss-up Senate races in addition to a number of competitive House seats.
"I think Democrats are going to be in trouble," said Stu Rothenberg, editor of The Rothenberg Political Report. "We already see this in Wisconsin, where the Republican is running very well for the governorship, the Republican Senate candidate seems to be ahead of Russ Feingold, and in a number of congressional districts, Republicans are doing very well."
Washington State allows absentee voters 21 days for ballots to arrive, so long as the postmark is on or before Election Day. The state showcased a protracted ballot count in 2004 when now-Senatorial candidate Dino Rossi (R) was locked in an epic battle with Christine Gregoire for the governorship. Rossi was certified governor-elect, only to have the title rescinded after two recounts. Gregoire won by a margin of 133 votes, the closest gubernatorial race in history.
After the 2004 race, Washington state legislature passed laws that provided additional time to process ballots after the general election. Counties were also given the option of conducting elections entirely by mail and more than two-thirds of them are switching to this ballot system.
"In some states, 45 days out (from Election Day) you're allowed to start voting by mail," says Democratic strategist Bob Beckel. "There's going to be some close races and they're getting closer and closer. The Republicans will do well but in some of these states, it's going to be margins of a hundred either way."