Election Update Explainer: Senate

There’s a lot of loose gossip going around about the slow vote counts that are delaying the final results in the Senate. Most of the conspiracy theories are patently false; there’s no reason to expect malfeasance anywhere, but for different reasons in each state. Having said that, there’s always the possibility of a challenge that would impact the final results regardless of the cause or the truth of any given conspiracy theory. The eventual determination, however, is always definitive for Senate races.

Let’s look at things state by state:


This state is the easiest to understand. The two major candidates, incumbent Raphael Warnock (D) and challenger Herschel Walker (R) are very close, but almost all votes have been counted, and it’s almost certain Warnock is the winner. However, the laws of Georgia require a run-off election if neither candidate wins by over 50%, and Warnock is nearly half a percent short. We won’t actually know the results until after this second election, which will be held on the 6th of December.

Traditionally, runoff elections have a lower turnout, and historically the swing in Georgia runoffs has gone to the Democrats, perhaps in part thanks to the electioneering and get-out-the-vote campaigns run out of local churches. A month in advance, however, is far too early for anyone to call the election.


Due to the widely scattered population combined with unreliable transportation, Alaska’s vote always takes a long time to get in, and some precincts will fail to get their counts in at all. That doesn’t usually matter much, because the results are usually quite clear: Alaska usually votes overwhelmingly Republican. With only 75% of the vote count in, major news outlets have already called this race for the Republicans, but uniquely, they’re unable to tell which Republican has actually won. That’s due to the state’s new Ranked Choice voting, and an election in which three separate Republicans ran against a single Democrat.

Normally, ranked choice votes can be tabulated almost as quickly as any other, but with Alaska’s far-flung ballots, the decision was made to extend the counting deadlines to November 23rd. Hard-right candidate Kelly Tshibaka was selected by Donald Trump and the state Republicans to unseat popular centrist Lisa Murkowski; however, the national Republican senate fund supported Murkowski and ran attack ads against Tshibaka. At this point, Tshibaka has a significant lead, but the final winner is anyone’s guess.


Election law in Nevada permits mail-in ballots to arrive and be counted as late as Saturday the 12th, as long as they were postmarked by the 8th. Ballot “cures”, which attempt to resolve unclear or damaged ballots, will continue through the 14th, and provisional ballot results won’t be known until the 15th. The majority of votes are in and being counted, but the margins are quite narrow.

As of this writing, challenger Adam Laxalt (R) has a narrow lead against incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto (D), but the by-far most populous county, Clark, is also the slowest to count, and that is providing a significant swing towards Cortez Masto. The race promises to remain extremely tight and may well come down to the very end. Unless Laxalt, who has a highly contentious and litigious history, shows a clear victory, court challenges to the results seem likely.

UPDATE: Cortez Masto is now in the lead, and it’s surprising few.


At the time of this writing, incumbent Mark Kelly (D) has a moderate but not decisive lead over challenger Blake Masters (R), with only 76% of the count in.

UPDATE: Kelly now has a significant lead.

Early election day voting was obstructed and counting significantly delayed by printer errors at sixty polling sites across the state. The cause is considered at this time to be incompetence rather than malfeasance, but the impact is significant. It is arguable that this impacted totals — Republicans are far more likely to vote in person on election day than Democrats — and court challenges to the Arizona election are not unlikely at this point. The margins remain narrow, and the final results are and remain in doubt.

In a case like this, a recount would not be considered a viable remedy by a court, and state laws and courts are not the final authority in any wise, but rather the legislative body to which the candidate is seeking election. The results of Senate races are very rarely challenged but the procedures are fairly clear; in the event a court declares the election invalid, a vacancy would occur. The governor would declare an interim Senator of the same party as the incumbent to serve until the next regular election. Any challenge (one can be presented whether or not the election is declared invalid in court) would be heard by the new Senate, and not even the Supreme Court would have the authority to supersede their decision.

From an historical perspective, it is more likely that one candidate or the other will concede, making the argument moot. In this case, the statistics stand heavily in favor of the incumbent. However, Masters has some history of election denialism, and there’s no easy way to predict his actions.

The Bottom Line:

Alaska’s results are less potentially divisive than the others. Georgia’s likely to have a runoff, but Nevada will have results soon. Arizona’s election, however, is very likely to see multiple legal contests, and it’s possible that we may not have a definitive answer until the new year.

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