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Dear readers,

Election night usually ends with results. This year will probably be different. 

Why will it take longer this year? 

You've likely seen local and national news coverage of record-breaking early voting, and the deluge of voting by mail-in ballots. In most states, no one can start counting those votes until the polls close on the night of Nov. 3. In every state, there's going to be a lot of counting that needs to get done. 

In the 2016 U.S. presidential election, about a quarter of all ballots — approximately 33 million — were cast by mail. 

This year, the Elections Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center estimates that 50-70% of all ballots will be cast absentee. The coronavirus has made many people wary of heading to the polls in person. 

And counting mail-in ballots just takes longer.

"... Reviewing, processing, and tallying ballots in most states is a time-intensive and often manual process...," a report from the bipartisan center states.

Most states, including Tennessee and Georgia, count only the mail-in ballots received by the time polls close on Election Day. Others, however, accept votes postmarked on Election Day, meaning they will not reach elections offices to be counted until days later. 

As a result, media organizations may be unable to call the race on election night — or even in the days immediately following Election Day — because too few ballots will have been counted. This is especially true if the race is very close.

Where does the Times Free Press get information on vote tallies?

For local races, our staff reporters get the information directly from the offices of the secretaries of state for Tennessee and Georgia. We will have a team of editors and reporters working on Election Day.

Results of statewide races will come from reporter Andy Sher, who is based in Nashville and covers the state legislature for the Times Free Press; the Associated Press; and Cox News for stories on the Georgia races.

The presidential election results will come from the AP, which on election night will gather results across the United States. The AP expects to declare winners in more than 7,000 races from the White House to every seat in every state legislature.

The AP has been counting nationwide election results since 1848. That election was the first in which all states voted on the same day: 30 states voted, the telegraph was used to gather returns, and the count went on for 72 hours.

The organization does not engage in speculation about winners and does not make projections or name apparent or likely winners. 

"Only when AP is fully confident a race has been won – defined most simply as the moment a trailing candidate no longer has a path to victory – will we make a call," the AP states.

In the race for president in 2016, that moment came at 2:29 a.m. Eastern Time the day after Election Day, when the AP declared Donald J. Trump the president elect.

This year, it's safe to say readers of the Times Free Press should not expect the print paper for Nov. 4  to have full results of the presidential election. We will update our website at timesfreepress.com and other digital platforms as results come in, and print them as soon as we can.

As with everything else in 2020, this election is unpredictable. We take extremely seriously our commitment to keeping you informed, and delivering news that is credible and complete.

Thanks for your support of our work, and for your patience in this uncertain time.  

— Alison Gerber, Editor

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