General view of the U.S. Capitol early in the morning amid concerns after U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he and U.S. first lady Melania Trump have both tested positive for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Washington, D.C., U.S. October 2, 2020. REUTERS/Ken Cedeno

Don’t expect definitive results on Election Night.

Every state has different policies for processing and counting votes. While some can start processing ballots before Election Day, others cannot start until Election Day itself. The National Conference on State Legislatures compiled a breakdown of when states can process and count absentee and mail-in ballots.

According to federal law, each state will have until Dec. 8 this year to resolve any “controversy or content” concerning the appointment of its electors. State electors will meet on Dec. 14 to formally cast their votes for president and vice president. The 117th Congress will be sworn in on Jan. 3, 2021, and will meet three days later to formally open electors’ ballots and declare a winner.

Consider the media providing the information.

Here are a few of the questions to ask when investigating a source and whether it is reliable:

  • How many outlets are covering the story? Is this only on a social media app, or are reliable publications reporting on the same story?
  • Does the article provide information about the sources used? How many sources are cited within the article? Are the sources speaking on or off the record? 
  • Does the publication regularly have their reporting called into question? Does the publication have a record of fidelity to the truth? 
  • Is the article opinion journalism or news reporting? Opinion journalism often has inflammatory language and seeks to provoke emotion. Avoiding opinion or entertainment journalism will help you focus on the facts.

Follow reliable news sources for election-related updates.

When on social media platforms, follow reliable news sources for election-related updates. In addition, be aware of social media platforms’ election plans. Be cautious when consuming election-related information from partisan sources.

Twitter will not officially declare races until they are called by state election officials or two or more pre-chosen national news sources. False or misleading information will be labeled or removed.

Facebook and Instagram will notify users when votes are still being counted and when races are too early to call. They will officially call races only after Reuters and the National Election Pool declare them. The National Election Pool is conducted by Edison Research on behalf of ABC News, CBS News, CNN and NBC News, and polls are conducted beginning October 13. Posts that question elections’ legitimacy will be labeled, as well posts prematurely declaring victory. Lastly, political ads will stop running once polls close.

YouTube will increase its use of information panels to give context under videos and in search results. The site will also focus on elevating authoritative news sources for election-related news while limiting the spread of misinformation and “borderline” content.

Be cautious when consuming news regarding opinion polls.

When reading a new opinion poll, particularly regarding battleground states or highly contested elections, make sure to look into the following items:

  • Who published the poll? How does that poll lean? Polls aren’t always unbiased. 
  • How many other polls exist about that particular topic, geography, population, etc.?
  • What is the poll’s margin of error?

Keep a close eye on battleground states.

The Cook Political Report has created a series of breakdowns of toss-up races for the Electoral College, as well as Senate, House of Representatives and governor races. In addition, CBS News has created an extensive guide to 2020 ballot initiatives.

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