'Can the election date be delayed? When will we know a winner?' Answers to questions about the 2020 election

Can Election Day be moved or postponed? When will we know a winner for the 2020 election? We have answers to those questions and more.


On Thursday, President Donald Trump floated the idea of postponing the election in a tweet. His tweet cited, without evidence, election fraud from mail-in voting. He suggested pushing the election to a date when it's safe for people to vote in person.

The election date is set by U.S. law. So it would take a law passed by Congress and signed by the president. Even if the Republican-led Senate passes such legislation, the House is unlikely to consider it. The other issue at hand is the constitutionally-mandated swearing in dates: Jan. 3 for Congress and Jan. 20 for the president. That leaves little wiggle room for an election.

Our reporting partners at CNN put together a Q&A around voting and the unique nature of the 2020 election.

When does the U.S. election start?

Short answer: Election Day, as set by U.S. law, is always the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. This year that's Nov. 3.

Better answer: a few weeks before Nov. 3. A lot of people in the U.S. vote early or by mail, and more than ever will do so this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Best answer: It's been going on for months already. The presidential election starts with a primary process for the major political parties, Republicans and Democrats, to pick their nominees (Donald Trump and Joe Biden this year). The primaries that determine those candidates started in early 2020 and were mostly wrapped up by summer.

Also important: There are a lot of other important elections going on at the same time as the presidential race. Voters will pick all 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, who are in office for two-year terms. Voters in some states will also vote for U.S. senators, who serve six-year terms. The party that controls those two houses of Congress has a lot of power in Washington, so they're important in terms of what the newly elected (or reelected) president can accomplish.

When does the U.S. election end?

Short answer: Nov. 3 — though the last polls will close in Alaska after midnight Eastern Time.

Better answer: when all the votes are counted.

Best answer: Given the move to mail-in voting with the pandemic this year, figuring out who won the election will probably take more than a day. It could always be a blowout that's immediately apparent. But neither side is going to admit defeat until they're absolutely sure they've lost. (Flashback: Al Gore actually called George W. Bush to rescind his concession in 2000.)

A close election could drag on for days or even weeks as states wait for ballots to trickle in and perform any necessary recounts before certifying their results. In 2000, the winner wasn't entirely clear for more than a month.

Why is the U.S. Election Day on a Tuesday in November?

It's not in the Constitution, but it is a matter of law. Congress set the date back in 1845.

Can the election be postponed or changed?

That's been an interesting question this year with the pandemic. Since Election Day is set by law, it would take an act of Congress and the OK of the president to postpone or change the date.

When are election results announced?

Election officials generally begin counting and reporting results once polls have closed in their area. You'll see those results begin to trickle out and may hear news agencies projecting winners fairly quickly. Or you'll hear about one of the candidates conceding defeat.

Some bigger news organizations look at the incoming results, exit polls and other existing data on election night and can, in many cases, project that a candidate will go on to win their race. If there's not enough information, though, it can take a long time for a winner to become clear.

Typically, Americans know on Election Day who won their presidency. This time around, counting votes could take significantly longer as more people vote by mail or absentee. But the formal process of choosing a president (see above) goes on for months and the winner is not technically announced until at least Jan. 6. But that's only a technicality unless there's a hiccup.

When does the winner take office?

At noon on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021.