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Explainer: What to expect on US election night and beyond

Explainer: What to expect on US election night and beyond

The coronavirus pandemic, an unprecedented number of ballots cast early, the lack of consistency about how these votes will be counted, and ongoing legal battles have made the outcome of the 2020 U.S. presidential election one of the hardest to predict.

Explainer: What to expect on US election night and beyond

As Americans head to polling stations on Tuesday, the question is not just whether Republican President Donald Trump will win a second four-year term or be defeated by his Democratic rival Joe Biden, but also when the result will be known.

The latest opinion polls show the race is close enough in the battleground states to swing the outcome to either party, even as Biden leads Trump in national polls.

Some of these states do not begin to count early votes until after polling stations close, and some allow ballots that arrive after Election Day to be included as long as they are postmarked by Nov. 3. If the presidential race depends on the outcomes in these states, America could be waiting for days.

Experts have cautioned against reading too much into early returns, which could be distorted by how each state processes the votes not cast in-person on Election Day.

Here are some moments to look for on Tuesday and beyond:

 

NOV. 3

5 p.m. ET (2200 GMT) – Edison Research will release preliminary findings from its exit polls, which are based on in-person interviews with voters on Election Day, in-person interviews at early voting centers before Nov. 3, and telephone interviews with people who voted by mail.

The initial data will look at national and state voter sentiment and motivations, but not detailed percentage estimates. Results from ballot questions in individual states will be released after voting ends in the state.

Edison will refine and update its national and state exit poll results through the night, gathering more voter responses and adjusting the weightings to reflect turnout.

 

6 p.m. ET (2300 GMT) – Some polling stations begin to close in the Republican strongholds of Indiana and Kentucky, the first in the country to close.

 

7 p.m. ET (0000 GMT) – Voting ends in Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, Virginia and Vermont.

Some polling stations begin to close in Florida, but many remain open until 8 p.m.

The initial results from Florida could favour Biden due to the high volume of early ballots that the state began to scan more than three weeks ago; opinion polls suggest more Democrats voted early, whereas more Republicans waited until Election Day. If there is a “blue mirage”, it will fade as more in-person ballots from Tuesday are tallied.

 

7.30 p.m. ET (0030 GMT) – Polls close in North Carolina, Ohio and West Virginia.

Like Florida, the initial results from North Carolina and Ohio could favour Biden because the states began to scan early ballots weeks before Election Day. A truer picture of the vote will emerge as more ballots are tabulated.

North Carolina counts ballots that arrive as late as Nov. 12 if they are postmarked by Nov. 3. Ohio accepts ballots 10 days after the election if they are postmarked by Nov. 2.

 

8 p.m. ET (0100 GMT) – Voting ends in Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Washington D.C.

Pennsylvania does not begin to process early votes until Election Day and the state will accept mail-in ballots up to three days after the election if they are postmarked by Nov. 3. As a result, the initial vote counts from Pennsylvania may show a “red mirage” favouring Trump until the absentee ballots are counted, experts say.

 

8.30 p.m. ET (0130 GMT) – Reuters expects to publish updated national exit poll results from Edison Research, with percentage estimates of support for Biden vs Trump.

Polling stations close in Arkansas.

 

9 p.m. ET (0200 GMT) – Voting ends in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Like Pennsylvania, the early results from Michigan and Wisconsin are expected to favor Trump because ballots cannot be counted before Election Day. (Michigan does allow some ballots to be opened, but they cannot be counted.)

Arizona allows ballots to be scanned 14 days before the election.

 

10 p.m. ET (0300 GMT) – Polls close in Iowa, Montana, Nevada and Utah.

Iowa allows ballot envelopes to be opened on the Saturday before the election and tabulating to begin on Monday. Ballots postmarked by Nov. 2 can arrive as late as the Monday after the election.

Nevada allows ballot scanning to begin 14 days before the election, and accepts ballots up to seven days after the election if they are postmarked by Nov. 3.

 

11 p.m. ET (0400 GMT) – Voting ends in California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

 

12 a.m. ET (0500 GMT) – Polls close in Hawaii.

 

1 a.m. ET (0600 GMT) – Voting ends in Alaska.

 

DEC. 8

States have until this date, known as the “safe harbour” deadline under federal law, to resolve any disputes over their vote totals and certify the winner. If a state fails to finalize its vote count by then, Congress is no longer required to accept its results under the Electoral College system.

 

DEC. 14

Members of the Electoral College cast their ballots for president. The candidate who receives a majority of the 538 electoral votes available, or 270, wins the presidency.

In all but two states, the winner of the state’s popular vote earns all its electoral votes, which are apportioned by population. In Maine and Nebraska, the statewide popular vote winner is awarded two electoral votes, and the remaining electoral votes are allocated to the popular vote winner in each of the state’s congressional districts.

 

JAN. 6, 2021

Congress meets at 1 p.m. ET (1800 GMT) in Washington to count the electoral votes and declare a winner.

 

JAN. 20, 2021

Inauguration Day. The winner and his running mate are sworn in as president and vice president at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

 

Which states could decide the US presidential election?

The U.S. presidential election will be decided by about a dozen states that could swing to either President Donald Trump, a Republican, or Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

These states will play a critical role in delivering the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House. Due to a surge in mail voting amid the coronavirus pandemic – as well as the states’ varying rules for when ballots can be counted – the results may not be known on Tuesday’s Election Day.

 

FLORIDA

Electoral votes: 29

Polls close: 7 p.m. EST (0000 GMT) (Several counties in northwestern Florida are an hour behind the rest of the state.)

Rating in presidential contest: Toss-up

Other key races: Competitive U.S. House of Representative races in the 15th and 26th Districts

Vote counting: Florida has no-excuse absentee voting. Election officials can begin scanning ballots more than three weeks before Election Day, but results cannot be generated until after polls are closed. All ballots must be received by the close of polls on Election Day to be counted. Ballots flagged for signature errors can be corrected, however, until 5 p.m. on Thursday.

 

GEORGIA

Electoral votes: 16

Polls close: 7 p.m. EST

Rating in presidential contest: Toss-up

Other key races: Both U.S. Senate seats are up for grabs and considered competitive.

Vote counting: Georgia has no-excuse absentee voting. Ballots must be received by clerks by the close of polls on Election Day. Ballots can be opened and scanned on receipt, but they cannot be tallied until after the polls close on Tuesday.

 

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Electoral votes: 4

Polls close: Between 7 and 8 p.m. EST, depending on jurisdiction

Rating in presidential contest: Leans Democratic

Other key races: Governor Chris Sununu, a Republican, looks poised to win re-election.

Vote counting: New Hampshire state officials have said all voters are able to cast an absentee ballot if they have concerns about COVID-19, and the ballots must be received by 5 p.m. on Election Day. Ballots could be pre-processed in some jurisdictions beginning on Oct. 29, but not counted until the polls have closed on Tuesday.

 

NORTH CAROLINA

Electoral votes: 15

Polls close: 7:30 p.m. EST

Rating in presidential contest: Toss-up

Other key races: Competitive governor and U.S. Senate contests

Vote counting: North Carolina has no-excuse absentee voting. Absentee ballots can be scanned weeks in advance, but results cannot be tallied before Election Day. In a blow to Trump, the U.S. Supreme Court declined last week to block the state’s plan to tally ballots that are postmarked by Tuesday and arrive by Nov. 12.

 

OHIO

Electoral votes: 18

Polls close: 7:30 p.m. EST

Rating in presidential contest: Toss-up

Other key races: Competitive U.S. House contest in the 1st District

Vote counting: Ohio has no-excuse absentee voting. Ballots could be scanned, but not tallied, as early as Oct. 6. Absentee ballots are the first to be counted on election night. Mail ballots had to be postmarked by Monday and received by 10 days after Tuesday’s election to be counted.

 

MICHIGAN

Electoral votes: 16

Polls close: 8 p.m. EST (0100 GMT Wednesday) (Four counties bordering Wisconsin are an hour behind the rest of the state.)

Rating in presidential contest: Leans Democratic

Other key races: Competitive U.S. Senate contest

Vote counting: Michigan has no-excuse absentee voting. Ballots must arrive at clerks’ offices by the close of polls on Election Day. Some densely populated jurisdictions in the state, such as Detroit, began sorting absentee ballots on Monday, but the vast majority did not. Clerks can begin scanning and counting absentee ballots at 7 a.m. on Tuesday.

Selectman Les Otten drops a ballot in a box shortly after midnight for the U.S. presidential election at the Hale House at Balsams Hotel in the hamlet of Dixville Notch, New Hampshire, U.S., November 3, 2020. REUTERS/Ashley L. Conti

PENNSYLVANIA

Electoral votes: 20

Polls close: 8 p.m. EST

Rating in presidential contest: Leans Democratic

Other key races: Competitive U.S. House contests in the 1st and 10th Districts

Vote counting: Pennsylvania has no-excuse absentee voting, and ballot counting can begin at 7 a.m. on Election Day. Last Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a ruling by Pennsylvania’s top court that officials in the state can accept mail-in ballots three days after Tuesday’s election, so long as they were postmarked by Election Day.

 

TEXAS

Electoral votes: 38

Polls close: 8 p.m. EST (Two western counties in Texas are an hour behind the rest of the state.)

Rating in presidential contest: Toss-up

Other key races: Competitive U.S. Senate contest

Vote counting: Texas voters must qualify to vote by mail, for example by being older than 65, being ill or disabled, or not being present in their voting county during the early voting period through Election Day. All voters can vote early in person. The population of a county determines when election officials can pre-process and count mail ballots. If the county has more than 100,000 people, the ballots may be counted after polls close on the last day of in-person early voting in the state, which was Oct. 30. Ballots will still be counted if they are postmarked by Tuesday and received by 5 p.m. the day after the election. For military and overseas voters, that deadline is extended through the end of business on Nov. 9.

 

WISCONSIN

Electoral votes: 10

Polls close: 9 p.m. EST (0200 GMT Wednesday)

Rating in presidential contest: Leans Democratic

Other key races: No governor or U.S. Senate races on the ballot

Vote counting: Wisconsin has no-excuse absentee voting. The state’s election officials cannot count mail-in ballots that arrive after Election Day, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Oct. 26. Ballots cannot be counted until polls open on Tuesday.

 

MINNESOTA

Electoral votes: 10

Polls close: 9 p.m. EST

Rating in presidential contest: Leans Democratic

Other key races: Competitive contests for the U.S. Senate and U.S. House in the 1st and 7th Districts

Vote counting: Minnesota has no-excuse absentee voting, and ballots must be pre-processed within five days of receipt. Beginning on Oct. 20, ballots could be opened and logged, but the results are only tabulated after polls close on Election Day. A federal appeals court ruled last week that the state’s plan to count absentee ballots received after Election Day was illegal.

 

ARIZONA

Electoral votes: 11

Polls close: 9 p.m. EST

Rating in presidential contest: Leaning Democratic

Other key races: Competitive U.S. Senate contest

Vote counting: Arizona has no-excuse absentee voting. All ballots must arrive by the close of polls on Election Day. Ballots could be scanned and tabulated starting 14 days before Tuesday but results not reported until after polls close on Election Day.

 

NEVADA

Electoral votes: 6

Polls close: 10 p.m. EST (0300 GMT Wednesday)

Rating in presidential contest: Leans Democratic

Other key races: No governor or U.S. Senate contests on the ballot

Vote counting: Nevada has no-excuse absentee voting, and ballots can be processed upon receipt. Nevada officials could begin scanning and recording ballots 14 days before the election, but results are not released until election night. Ballots postmarked by Tuesday will be counted so long as they arrive within seven days after the election.

 

IOWA

Electoral votes: 6

Polls close: 10 p.m. EST

Rating in presidential contest: Toss-up

Other key races: Competitive U.S. Senate contest

Vote counting: Iowa has no-excuse absentee voting. The ballots must be received by the close of polls on Election Day, or by noon the following Monday if they were postmarked by Nov. 2. Election officials were allowed to begin opening ballot envelopes on the Saturday before the election and begin scanning and tabulating them on Monday.

Reuters

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