What to Expect on Election Night

By Johnathan Miller

Special Correspondent 

The 2020 presidential election is only a few days away and the U.S. is already headed for a big turnout. As of Thursday, Oct. 29, 85.7 million votes have been cast — 62% of the overall turnout in the 2016 presidential election, according to the Election Project by Professor Michael McDonald.

What does this mean for election night when more than half of the vote will have already been cast? 

Early Data

There is reason to think that the vast majority of early votes will skew heavily Democratic, and that the in-person votes may be more Republican. 

A Monmouth poll released on Oct. 29 in Florida showed that Republicans plan to vote on election day by 24% to Democrats’ 6% with it being 17% of the electorate. They also lead in early in-person voting by 46%-44% with it being 44% of the electorate. Democrats, however, lead mail-in voting by 49%-28% with it being 37% of the electorate.

A Quinnipiac poll in Pennsylvania, released on Oct. 29,  showed that 58% of voters plan to vote in-person while 41% plan to vote through the mail. Broken down by party registrations, Republicans favor in-person 84%-34% while Democrats favor mail 66%-16%.

As you can see, though it can vary state-by-state, Democrats are more mobilized to vote early while Republicans are waiting until election day. That may cause some problems when reporting the results on election night.

Poll Closings and Waiting

It is very likely, though not absolute, that we will go to bed and wake up the next morning unsure of who won the presidential election. That is simply because some states may be unable to quickly count all the mail-in ballots on election night. States have received a big influx of mail-in votes compared to the past.

This can be different based on certain state law. In Florida, for example, ballots are already being allowed to be processed to release them quicker. Considering early votes are counted first and that most voters will vote early, it can be possible, and even expected, to get the full results by the end of election night. If Biden happens to win the state of Florida, it would be very difficult to see how President Trump can win. If Trump wins, then we will be waiting on the rest of the Sun Belt and the Midwest to report their results to know. A major caution, however, is that if it is a tight race, there may be recounts.

Arizona is another state to give a sense where the presidential race stands. A new Arizona law allows the state to start counting mail votes two weeks prior to the election. The vast majority of the votes, therefore, will be reported and it could show some insight of whether a candidate is on his way to win the state. A note of caution, there will be some outstanding ballots that will need to be counted, and it may take some time to count them. Late received ballots tipped the 2018 Senate race.

Around 8 p.m., when the Equinox will kickoff its live blog, Pennsylvania will close its polls. According to FiveThirtyEight, it is the likeliest state to decide the election. It is also a state that has gotten an increase in mail ballots. As of Oct. 29, 2.1 million ballots had been cast in Pennsylvania — 1.4 million were from registered Democrats and 467,000 from Republicans.

Officials are not allowed to start counting the mail-in ballots until the morning of election, and some counties may not even start counting ballots until the next day. Some state officials gave Friday as a good timeline as to when all the votes should be counted. Since the mail-in votes are likely to be disproportionately Democratic, it may create the picture that Trump would be winning Pennsylvania in a healthy margin, but beware that the margin will likely shrink significantly as more mail-in ballots get counted.

We might not know the official winner of the election during our live blog, but there will be heavy clues to whether Trump or Biden is having a good night. Despite not having the full results in Pennsylvania, we will most likely have the results from Florida, Texas, North Carolina, and Arizona. A Trump win in either Florida, North Carolina, or even Arizona will tell us that he is in the game and that we will be watching the results from Michigan, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Wisconsin to determine the winner. 

However, if Biden picks up Florida, North Carolina, or even Texas, he will most likely be the next president.

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Art by Elizabeth Scalzo