Polls have officially closed in California, but whether or not the state’s governor will get to keep his job is likely to remain unclear for at least a couple more hours.

Or, if the race is tighter than expected based on early counts, residents of the nation’s most populous state will have to wait even longer — even weeks — before they know whether Gov. Gavin Newsom has been ousted.

Analysts say they have a pretty good guess of how the process will play out, because millions of Californians have already cast ballots early or by mail.

Thanks to an extension of pandemic election rules, all of the state’s some 22 million active registered voters were automatically sent ballots — a fact that experts say has led to high turnout for a uniquely timed and, for many, confusing special election in a year when voters aren’t already thinking about who they want to be president or governor.

As of Tuesday, 43 percent of those 22 million voters had returned their ballots. Most of the ballots that have already been cast were from registered Democrats, according to Political Data, Inc., a nonpartisan provider of election data.

Election officials in California’s 58 counties are allowed to begin counting votes early, but they can’t reveal any results until after polls have closed. Then, they have 30 days to complete their official canvass and must give vote-by-mail ballots postmarked on Election Day a week to arrive. The certified count is not expected until Oct. 22.

But experts have said that the state’s electoral math is very much in Mr. Newsom’s favor. Democrats outnumber Republicans two to one. And many more Democrats than Republicans have returned their ballots already.

Still, many Republicans said they were waiting to vote in person on Election Day, citing claims about election fraud that have been shown to be unsubstantiated.

If in-person turnout on Tuesday is significant enough, it could tighten the race and drag out the count.

Polls, however, have shown Mr. Newsom’s lead widening in recent days.


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