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Why Election Day Could Drag on Beyond Tonight

Image: Voting in US Midterm Elections

epa04476362 A man votes during election day voting at a public school cafeteria in New York, New York, USA, 04 November 2014. US voters are increasingly disillusioned with Washington as they head to the polls 04 November to elect senators and members of the House of Representatives. EPA/JUSTIN LANE JUSTIN LANE / EPA

There’s a real chance the story line of this year’s election – which party controls the Senate - won’t be complete on Election Day. That’s because a host of factors will delay the results of individual races, leaving us in suspense over who controls the upper chamber for the next two years.

Here are the factors that could drag these elections out:

The Louisiana Jungle Election: November 4th is technically Louisiana’s primary. If a candidate doesn’t receive more than 50 percent of the vote Tuesday, then the top two vote-getters face off in what the state calls its general election on December 6th.

With Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu locked in a tight race against Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy and third party candidate Rob Maness polling at around 9 percent, it is highly likely that Louisiana’s election results won’t be known until December.

Landrieu Explains Why Obama Has a Hard Time in Louisiana 0:59

Georgia runoff: In the Peach State, candidates must receive a majority of the vote to claim victory. A third party candidate in the Senate race, Amanda Swafford, while only polling at just under 4 percent, is making that task difficult for both Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn and Republican candidate David Perdue. If neither can reach the 50 percent threshold, then a runoff election is held January 6th.

The same holds true for the gubernatorial race between Democratic challenger Jason Carter and Republican incumbent Nathan Deal. But that runoff date is on December 2nd.

The reason they are different is because the Department of Justice won a lawsuit that determined more time was needed to receive ballots from military stationed overseas before a runoff could be determined. After the court decision, the Georgia legislature decided not to change the date of the gubernatorial runoff. Who would have thought at the time that both races would go to a runoff?

Alaska’s remote voters: Even if the Louisiana and Georgia races are decided on November 4th, the close Alaska Senate race between Democratic Sen. Mark Begich and Republican challenger Dan Sullivan could slow down race Election Night results. Not only do Alaska’s polls close at 1 a.m. EST, the votes from remote towns and villages take time to tally. There are 137 precincts in Alaska where votes are hand counted at the precinct then called in to regional offices. From the regional offices the votes are uploaded to the statewide database via “modem connection.” In short, the process takes time.

With at least seven Senate races and 11 gubernatorial races within a three point margin, it is possible that races are too close to call on Election Night. Those instances usually happen in races with fewer voters, like House races or local races, but hey, it has happened in popular national races, too. Bush v. Gore anyone?

The wild card: If independent Greg Orman pulls out a victory against incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican, he will have to choose which of the two parties to align himself with in the United States Senate. Orman hasn’t said which way he’ll go, although he has said that he plans to caucus with whichever party holds the majority. (Even that is a little bit fuzzy. Here’s what Orman told NBC News in an interview: “If four or five months goes by, and it's clear they're engaged in the same old partisan politics, we'll be able to change our allegiances and work with the other side. And I think that's a really strong and important tool, to hold the Senate accountable for actually getting something done.”) If he wins and control of the chamber ends up hanging in the balance – or we’re waiting on other runoffs -- we may have to wait until Orman’s decision in January to get a clear picture of who will rule the Senate.