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Counting votes shouldn’t take weeks

In some states, delays in the election count kept the ground fertile for Trump and the handful of other candidates who continue to push the false narrative that elections were being stolen.

Election worker Toni Gearo processed mail-in ballots for the midterm election at the Riverside County Registrar-Voter in Riverside, Calif., on Nov. 10.Watchara Phomicinda/Associated Press

The midterms represented a decisive victory over election denialism. The vast majority of candidates conceded when they lost, including those who during the campaign refused to commit to accepting the final results. Even as former President Donald Trump beat the false drum of election fraud, most of the candidates he endorsed refused to dance along.

But in some states, delays in the election count kept the ground fertile for Trump and the handful of other candidates who continue to push the false narrative that elections were being stolen.

In Arizona, for example, the slow trickle of results from Maricopa County — one of the nation’s largest voting jurisdictions — aided Trump-endorsed GOP candidate Kari Lake in claiming the election was “botched.” Trump allies like Steve Bannon also cast baseless doubt on the integrity of the count, and some have advised Lake to claim the election was stolen rather than concede.

This is as dangerous as it is unnecessary. Arizona and other states should join nearly half the states in the nation, including Massachusetts, that have implemented common-sense vote tabulation and counting methods that not only speed up the time it takes to get election results, but also increase transparency and garners greater public trust in our election systems.


And officials nationwide should stress that early voting is important for everyone — including Republicans.

An easy place to start is ballot preprocessing. No state can begin counting actual ballots before Election Day, but some, including the Bay State, allow officials to check mail-in and absentee ballots beforehand to ensure they were properly submitted and signed, and to give voters a chance to cure any challenged ballot. This should be the norm.

“There should be some standardized effort to at least make it possible to preprocess the ballots,” said Secretary of State William F. Galvin. “And then, secondly, to look into best practices in terms of counting.”


In Arizona, the delay was due in part to Trump and his allies urging Republicans to wait to vote in person or cast their mail-in ballots on Election Day. But the delays were also exacerbated by rules that require centralized tabulation of ballots, even in large jurisdictions like Maricopa County, instead of precinct-level counting.

That is also still an issue in other states including Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan — where Trump supporters, at the then-president’s urging, gathered outside the massive ballot tabulation center in Detroit in 2020 and chanted “stop the count.” (Trump’s call last week for a similar protest was apparently ignored.)

Contrast other states where election officials are allowed — in Massachusetts, Galvin said, they are encouraged — to count mail-in ballots at the precinct level on Election Day to slim the volume of ballots being counted at any one place and time and thus speed up the process, especially in the more populous regions. But for ballots that arrive closer to or on Election Day, there is also a central tabulation system to supplement precinct-level processing.

Not all these things will guarantee a speedy conclusion to every election count. Particularly in close races, it may still take days or even weeks to determine the winner. And in larger states like California — where delays in the reported results of several congressional races also delayed the call of which party controls the US House — efforts to expand mail-in voting and ensure election safeguards are in place actually made the count take longer, officials said.


But in most states, officials have the tools to make the election count both secure and faster. Doing so isn’t just common sense, but also critical to help voters trust the system and keep election denialism on the run.

Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.