Understanding Election Results and When Votes Are Counted

A Fairfax County voting machine.

While Election Day is over, some voters may be wondering how their votes are counted and when the final results in Fairfax County will be available.

Election Night Results

On election night, Fairfax County reports unofficial results for every race or issue on the ballot. What’s different this year is that election night results were incomplete.

Due to a new state law, voters were given extra time to return their mail-in ballots. While these ballots must have been put in the mail by Election Day, they will still be counted if they are received by noon on Friday, Nov. 6.

As a result, the unofficial results reported on Nov. 3 were incomplete because there are ballots still eligible to be counted following Election Day.

However, election officials say that no more than 40,000 mail-in ballots could be received by the Friday deadline because most voters who applied to vote by mail returned them before Nov. 3.

Results Unofficial Until Certified

It’s also important to keep in mind that the results reported on election night are unofficial. Following every election, the county conducts an open process called a “canvass” to double check that voting results are accurately reported. Once the canvass is completed, the results are sent to the Virginia State Board of Elections to certify as official, accurate and complete.

On election night, Nov. 3, the county briefly misreported the unofficial results in the 2020 presidential race. This has led to false claims that votes were switched from President Trump to former Vice President Biden.

In fact, the unofficial results report briefly and incorrectly showed that Biden received 100,000 more votes than actually cast for him. The actual vote totals for both presidential candidates were never changed. The mistake resulted from a simple math error when we reported the unofficial numbers; the actual vote totals for both candidates were always correct. This reporting mistake was quickly caught and fixed on election night.

How Do I Know When My Vote was Counted?

By state law, votes may not be counted until after the polls close on Election Day. However, voting machines immediately record and tally your ballot when you put it into the machine or poll workers do the same for your mail-in ballot.

After the polls close, election officials then run the total vote count recorded by every voting machine.

As a voter, you can check the state website to see when you voted in person or when your mail-in ballot was received.

For anyone who voted early — either in person or by mail — look at the “Absentee/Early Voting History” section after logging into the state site. The date in the “received” column indicates when your mail-in ballot was received or when you voted in person at any early voting location.

If you voted in person on Nov. 3, however, you need to check the “Voter History” section of your voter record. Note there is a possibility that your history may not indicate yet that you voted in this election while as we work on updating records.

More Information

Contact the Fairfax County Office of Elections at 703-222-0776, TTY 711, for more information or questions.

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