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Five Races That May Not Be Decided Tuesday. Or Wednesday. Or Thursday …

For exhausted candidates and campaign staff, Tuesday — Election Day — marks the end of a long journey and the start of a well-earned respite.

Or does it?

It’s very likely that at least a couple elections will be too close to call when we wake up1 on Wednesday morning. It happened in 2012, 2014 and 2016; heck, it’s happened twice this year already. And in at least five races, there is a possibility that no candidate will receive a majority of votes, kicking in special rules to decide the election at a later date. So, let’s take a look at some races where the election might go into extra innings:

Some races in California and Washington might not be called until later in the week. That’s because many or all voters in these two states vote by mail, and ballots only have to be postmarked by Election Day, not received by then. With thousands of ballots potentially outstanding, winners can’t be declared in neck-and-neck races until days, if not weeks, after Election Day. The Deluxe version of our forecast thinks that the California 25th, California 39th and California 48th will be among the closest contests in these two states, but, really, this delay could happen in any number of districts.

And, of course, there’s always the possibility that a random race anywhere in the country is so close that it goes to a recount, postponing the certification of a winner for weeks.

Then there are the races where a majority of the vote is required to win, starting with Vermont governor. Republican Gov. Phil Scott is strongly favored, but perhaps not by as much as some analysts assume. The Deluxe version of our gubernatorial forecast puts Scott at 54 percent of the vote and Democrat Christine Hallquist at 38 percent, with 8 percent going to other candidates. In the event that Scott fails to secure more than 50 percent of the vote, a joint vote of the state legislature would pick the winner. The last time this happened, four years ago, the Democrat-controlled legislature re-elected Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin.

In the Maine 2nd District, our model forecasts that Democratic state Rep. Jared Golden will finish ahead of Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin, 49 percent of the vote to 47 percent, but it doesn’t take into account Maine’s new ranked-choice voting system, which kicks in if neither candidate wins a majority of the vote. Maine used the system for the first time during this year’s primary elections, and the ranked-choice tabulations took place about a week after voters went to the polls. If the Maine 2nd proves to be the decisive district for control of the House — and it very well might — we could be waiting a long time to find out which party will run the chamber. And even then it may not be settled; Poliquin dodged a question about whether he would accept the results if he leads in the initial tally but loses the ranked-choice tabulations, so it may take even longer to finalize a winner in that race if he decides to challenge the results.

Then there are the three races that could go to more traditional runoff elections. The special U.S. Senate election in Mississippi is currently a battle royal between four candidates. As of Saturday morning, the Deluxe version of our model said there was a 95 percent chance that none would receive a majority of the vote, which would send the race to a Nov. 27 runoff between the top two finishers. According to our forecast, that’s likely to be appointed Republican incumbent Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and a Democrat, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy. If the other Senate races give the chamber 50 Democrats and 49 Republicans, this one runoff could decide control of the Senate.

Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp and Democratic former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams are locked in an incredibly close race for Georgia governor, raising the possibility that if Libertarian candidate Ted Metz receives even a tiny fraction of the vote, it could deny the first-place finisher a majority. Under Georgia law, Kemp and Abrams would then have to face off in another election on Dec. 4; the Deluxe version of our forecast gave this a 17 percent chance of happening as of Saturday morning.

Finally, as of Saturday morning, the Louisiana 3rd District has a 22 percent chance of going to a Dec. 8 runoff in our Deluxe model. Louisiana is the only state that doesn’t hold primaries before November; instead, the Bayou State holds a “jungle primary” in which all candidates, regardless of party, run on the same ballot in the general election. If no one gets a majority, then the top two vote-getters advance to a runoff. The 3rd District is solidly Republican, but incumbent Republican Rep. Clay Higgins could slip below 50 percent if GOP challenger Josh Guillory (who has been endorsed by Rudy Giuliani) peels off enough votes. Our model still thinks there’s a 99.6 percent that Higgins will win, but maybe not before he is forced into a runoff.

So keep your seatbelts buckled; if these last three scenarios come to pass, we could be in for as much as another full month of midterm campaigning.


  1. If we ever go to sleep …

Nathaniel Rakich is a senior editor and senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.