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We have to count every vote even if it takes weeks

Updated 5:11 PM ET, Fri October 16, 2020

Editor's Note: Democrat Jane Harman is a former congresswoman from California. Republican Deborah Pryce is a former congresswoman from Ohio. Both are members of the National Council on Election Integrity, a bipartisan group. The views expressed in this commentary belong to the authors. View more opinion at CNN.

(CNN) - "I'm willing to wait for it — wait for it."

That's a key line sung by the character of Aaron Burr in Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical sensation "Hamilton." And on election night this year, we all must embrace this mantra as our state and local election officials count our votes.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, it could well take much longer to determine the results this year than it has in the past. Four years ago, nearly one in every four Americans cast their vote through absentee or mail-in ballots. This year, that number is expected to be much, much higher — perhaps even double that. And in some states, including two crucial battleground states, election officials cannot begin processing — let alone counting — absentee ballots until Election Day itself.

Moreover, voters' ballots in nearly 40% of states are valid even if they are received a few days after November 3 — as long as they are postmarked on or before Election Day. In the battleground state of Michigan, ballots are valid this year so long as they are postmarked by November 2 — the day before Election Day — and received within 14 days of Election Day.

In early September, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson warned, "We should be prepared for this to be closer to an election week, as opposed to an election day." She went on to add, "The bottom line is we are not going to have the full results and a counting of all of our ballots on election night. We already know that."

Al Schmidt, one of the top election administrators in Philadelphia, recently echoed similar warnings. "When you have half of your voters vote by mail, when you have hundreds of thousands of votes to count, and you cannot begin counting them or even opening the envelope that those ballots are in until Election Day, you will not know the outcome on election night," he told CBS's "60 Minutes."

As former candidates ourselves, we've experienced our fair share of anxious election nights. Congresswoman Pryce was once officially named the winner of one of her re-election races more than a month after Election Day because her margin of victory — less than 0.5% — triggered a recount under Ohio law. Congresswoman Harman once prevailed in the closest US House race in California that year — being certified the winner five weeks after Election Day by just 812 votes out of roughly 196,000 cast.

Uncertainty about whether you've won or lost is never fun, but counting every vote cast in accordance with applicable laws is what we do in America. This year, we all need to be patient and give election officials time to do their jobs, even if that means there will be no balloon drops or fireworks to mark the results.

As former congresswomen from different political parties who were both elected to the House of Representatives in 1992, we are united in our belief that it is our patriotic duty to run free and fair elections. That's why we both joined the National Council on Election Integrity, which is sponsoring the Count Every Vote campaign to defend the legitimacy of our elections.

Counting every vote is what brings certitude to elections — especially close ones. Amid a global pandemic that has killed more than 217,000 of our fellow countrymen and women, tens of millions of Americans have requested absentee ballots, which will likely take longer to count. We must stand united this year to make sure every voter's voice is heard. Regardless of whether you're a Democrat, Republican, or independent — and whether you cast your ballot in person or via mail — you should have confidence that your vote has been counted.

Americans have been holding elections for more than 200 years. Neither a pandemic nor hyperpartisanship should be allowed to interfere with an accurate vote count this year. It may take longer in 2020, but we'll get this election done — safely and securely — just like we always have. We're all just going to need to channel our inner "Hamilton" and be willing to wait for it.

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