Fact check: As predicted, key election winners were declared in Florida before Nevada

The claim: Florida counted all votes within two hours of polls closing, while Nevada's results flipped suddenly after days of counting

Not even two hours after most of Florida's polls had closed, news organizations declared that both Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Marco Rubio won reelection.

The speed with which the state’s highest-profile Republican officeholders could claim victory left some social media users questioning why smaller states needed several days to count votes.

"So FL with 14.4 million registered voters was able to count ALL their votes within 2 hrs after being hit by a devastating hurricane," reads a Nov. 12 Instagram post. "But it takes NV 4 days to count 900K votes? And it 'all of a sudden' flips to Democrat on the last day and it's immediately called?"

The post, which references the challenges Florida was still facing more than five weeks after Hurricane Ian struck, had more than 200 likes. The Instagram post was a screenshot of a tweet, and other variations circulated on Instagram as well.

The post, however, misstates what happened in Florida and Nevada, confusing vote counting and official results issued by states with calls made by the media.

News outlets did make calls about some races in Florida on the night of the election because, based on the unofficial results, the outcomes were decisive and relatively easy to determine. Calls about Nevada races were made later – largely because the results were close in many races and the media could not identify the winners with certainty for several days.

At the same time, Florida did not count all votes within two hours of polls closing, nor did Nevada's vote totals suddenly flip after four days of counting. Florida's election results only became official two weeks after the election, and it began counting early mail-in ballots back in October. Nevada's heavy use of mail-in ballots and the tendency of younger, typically left-leaning voters to return those later explains why vote tallies there shifted toward Democrats over several days of counting, experts say.

USA TODAY reached out to the social media user who shared the claim for comment.

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Florida needed weeks before and after Election Day for counting

Florida’s midterm election results were certified on Nov. 22, two weeks after Election Day. Ballot counting began before Election Day and likely continued in some form up until certification day, according to experts.

Ballot counting has never been completed on Election Day in any state at any point in the nation’s history, David Becker, executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation & Research, previously told USA TODAY. Most of the results reported on election night are from that day's in-person voting and early in-person voting, along with any preprocessed mail-in ballots in states that allow that to happen.

Florida was able to present much of its final vote totals within hours of polls closing in part because it counts mail-in ballots early, according to Phil Keisling, chair of the National Vote at Home Institute. State law allows it to begin verifying absentee voter identities and scanning ballots after tabulation equipment is publicly tested, meaning election officials could start scanning ballots in October.

Having a large window for those time-consuming processes is important because in-person votes “go to the front of the line” for counting, Keisling said. Florida has not released a breakdown of how many votes were counted before Election Day, but the state says 2.7 million mail-in ballots were received.

Keisling said typical ballot return patterns make it likely much of that vote was counted early. Florida is one of only 10 states that counts mail-in votes early, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Vote counting also extends beyond election night to provide time to address special circumstances spelled out in state and federal laws. Overseas military ballots are allowed to be counted if they are postmarked by Election Day and arrive before certification deadlines, Keisling said. All states also allow time to determine the validity of provisional ballots cast when there were questions about a voter's proper polling place or registration. And states also allow time for voters to prove they cast an absentee ballot if the signature on the envelope doesn't match the voter's signature on file, a process known as curing.

Nevada's slow count and late shift were predictable

Any declarations of winners before certification come from media or candidates, not election officials, Keisling noted. Florida’s races for senator and governor were won by margins north of 17%, making it easier to call on election night than Nevada's races, which were decided by 0.8% and 1.5%, respectively.

Keisling said there was nothing suspicious about Nevada's vote count taking longer or the way tallies moved towards Democrats as the counting advanced.

This year, Nevada began sending all registered voters mail-in ballots unless they opted out. The new system allowed for votes postmarked by Election Day to be counted if they were received by Nov. 12.

In the end, according to Nevada's official election results, 51% of the 1.02 million votes cast in the 2022 November election were mail-in ballots.

Before Election Day, Nevada election officials warned that it would take days to process ballots.

The extended window for receiving ballots after Election Day alone meant media would not be able to declare winners in Nevada races for days unless they were largely blowouts, said Michael McDonald, a professor of political science at the University of Florida.

The in-person vote in most states historically skews Republican, creating relatively large GOP leads in early vote counting, McDonald said. This tendency only increased as former President Donald Trump repeatedly urged Republicans not to use mail-in ballots.

Nevada, like Florida, allows for processing and counting early mail-in ballots. And the difference in when ballots are returned means mail ballots from younger voters, who lean Democratic, tend to be counted later.

Those trends explain why the apparent lead for Republican challenger Adam Laxalt faded as more votes were counted in the Nevada Senate race, with incumbent Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez claiming victory on Nov. 12. Nevertheless, the same trend was not enough for incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak to hold off Republican challenger Joe Lombardo, because the gap after election night was too large.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that Florida counted all votes within two hours of polls closing, while Nevada's results flipped suddenly after days of counting. Florida spent weeks counting ballots, but news outlets called winners in some Florida races on election night after getting unofficial results that showed insurmountable leads. Nevada also released unofficial results, but these were issued more slowly and were not decisive enough early on for the media to project winners in high-profile races. Nevada's results did not flip suddenly, demographics that lean democratic were just more heavily represented in the late mail-in ballots that were counted later.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Nevada, Florida vote counting shaped by different rules