The Coronavirus epidemic has changed the course of the 2020 election.
Most visibly, Donald Trump contracting the virus has thrown the final month of campaigning into uncertainty.
But the virus had already sparked massive changes to how many people in the United States will vote.
And it means it’s almost certain that it’ll take days – if not weeks – to learn the results.
It’s opened the door for President Trump to threaten to declare victory before all the votes are counted – which has sparked genuine fears for the future of democracy in America.
Here’s why it might take a long time to learn the result of November’s US Presidential election.
Why is this election different?
Two words – absentee ballots.
With Covid-19 still prevalent in the United States – not to mention the White House – voters are understandably concerned about the safety of turning up to vote in person.
Polling stations in the US frequently see long lines of people in close quarters waiting to cast their ballot.
Some states have tried to mitigate this in recent years by allowing early voting – and many states have had polling stations open for weeks.
But another way of shortening the queues at the ballot box is to allow more people to vote by mail.
In 2016, nearly a quarter of votes were cast by post – and the number is expected to rise significantly this year.
Is that what Trump has been complaining about?
Yes. Donald Trump, who has consistently trailed in the polls against Joe Biden, has seized upon absentee voting as a method of creating uncertainty in the legitimacy of the election.
The President has frequently claimed the mail-in and absentee voting processes are vulnerable to fraud. But there is no evidence that this is the case.
Numerous nationwide and state-level studies of in-person and mail-in voting have not revealed any evidence of widespread fraud.
And safeguards are in place to prevent fraud – with most states requiring signature or address verification for ballots to be counted.
Why does it take longer to count mail-in ballots?
In some states, ballots have to be received before election day – which means they can also be counted in a more timely manner.
But some 20 states will count ballots which are received after election day, as long as they are postmarked by election day.
So millions of valid ballots may not even arrive for counting until days later.
Is that a problem for Joe Biden?
Polls have shown that people who plan to vote by mail are predominantly likely to vote for Joe Biden.
That could mean on-the-night counting could suggest a better result for President Trump than the reality.
Which is why Trump’s refusal to commit to waiting until all the votes are counted before claiming victory is so troubling.