EDITORIAL: Worth the wait: Getting vote count right matters more than speed

It’s deja vu all over again: Despite the record-breaking voter turnout the presidential race will be decided by just a few Electoral College votes — and the U.S. Supreme Court. With ballot counts still going in several states Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump has filed lawsuits to stop the counts in those states in which he held a lead, but allowed them to continue where Joe Biden held a lead but Trump still had a chance to overtake him. Trump also has demanded a recount in Wisconsin, where he held a lead that disappeared when the last ballots were counted.

As many had feared, this election could wind up like 2000, when the Supreme Court ordered an end to recounts and declared George W. Bush president. And like 20 years ago, many people are expressing emotions ranging from fear to anger to angst about the uncertain results.

Truth be told, however, much of the discomfort could be overblown. After all, what’s most important is not how quickly we have the results but how correct they are, and ensure that the will of the people is truly and accurately represented. And once the issue inevitably comes before the high court, we must have faith that the justices will recognize the importance of their decisions and be objective and impartial in their ruling.

Certainly, this is one of the most important decisions our country will make, affecting the future of our nation and, probably, our economy, foreign trade and our international standing. Obviously people hate to be in the dark about such things — and ordinarily we don’t have to be. We live in an age of immediate information and feedback. We’ve grown accustomed to knowing the outcome of political races within hours after the polls close, just like we received the results of other races on Tuesday’s ballot that same evening. In fact, we complain if we think the wait is excessively long.

Such rapid results of ballot counts is a recent luxury, however. Waiting for election results — sometimes for weeks — was the norm. Before the time of mechanized ballot tabulations and electronic communications, elections offices didn’t even receive all the ballots on the same night, sometimes not even in the same week.

Back in the horse-and-buggy days it could take days just to get ballots from all polling places to the offices where they would be counted — even longer if the winter weather was particularly bad. Once the votes were counted, legislatures had to assemble to name and gather their electors — the members of the Electoral College — give them their charge and send them on their way. Those electors then would take the sometimes long journey to Washington to cast their formal votes. Let us remember that railroads didn’t exist until the late-1820s and the first transcontinental line was completed in 1869.

In fact, for more than a century our nation’s presidents were inaugurated in March — a full four months after the election, until 1937, after the 20th Amendment to the Constitution set the presidential term to begin on Jan. 20.

So let us not suffer under our uncertainty; the current administration— and our own lives — will continue until a new president takes the oath of office, whether that is in two months or four years.