Nearly 100 million people have voted in the US elections to this day, when they finally open the polls, which indicates a historic turnout for the choice of the next President. If you’re going to stay up to see who wins the race, Donald Trump or Joe Biden, here are some tips on what you should pay attention to and how to do it.

The first Tuesday in November has come, it’s the day for Americans to go to the polls and choose the President in an election as contested as followed around the world. If, like us, you’re going to follow this election closely throughout the night, here are some guidelines on how to do it and how to better understand the information that you will have access to.

When are we going to know the results?

With the pandemic, many Americans voted by mail ahead of time. Until the polls opened, more than 100 million Americans had voted, but this does not make the process easier since each state has its own rules on counting votes.

For example, in the States of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan (three States that are decisive for the final result) election officials cannot start counting the votes until election day, or the day before, which leaves a large number of votes to count at once.

In addition, many votes have been sent by mail and, in some States, these votes may arrive after election day, provided that the postmark is until November 3rd. CNN explains the process and illustrates it in a simple way here.


What are the decisive States?

Swing States or those the polls point to as more disputed may define the rest of the night. Some of them will arrive early. Florida and North Carolina are two of the States that can define the electoral night, also because they have the ability to deliver results earlier. More disputed, is also the State of Arizona on this lot. If the Democratic candidate manages to win one of these States, it may indicate his election as the President of the United States. If Donald Trump wins all three States, it could clear the way for his re-election, as NPR says here.

Florida and Pennsylvania (this one should present results later due to the vote-counting rules) are in what polling experts call toss-up: any of the candidates can win, the margin of error is large. As they have a large number of delegates on the electoral college, these two can be decisive.

These two are joined by Ohio, one of the traditional Swing States, and the State of Georgia, which has not supported a Democratic candidate since the 1990s, but in which Democrats are optimistic, especially given the change in the composition of the State’s population, as predicted by AP here.

Who declares the winner?

In this chapter the electoral night can be more confusing. Most of the major American media make their own projections and have their own models for determining who are the winners of the election and in each of the States. CNN will present its results, NYT theirs, and so on.

The most respected model whose results will be used by some of the major agencies, such as public radio NPR, is that of the Associated Press, the American news agency, also known as AP.

The AP does not make projections, but it will declare the winners in each of the States. This will be done based on a model that determines whether opponents still have a chance to win. Of course, the AP will take longer to declare winners than some organizations, but it will also do it in a more certain way. In this podcast you can hear an explanation of the process.

Official and closed results will take days or weeks. In cases where there will be a tighter race, the winner will only be known well after November 3rd.

Where to follow the elections?

Here are many hypotheses, since all major TV channels and newspapers will have a special issue, but there are some highlights that may be useful.

  • The New York Times podcast The Daily does a special broadcast, live and in person, between 7:00 pm and 11:00 pm (Lisbon time) that you can follow here.
  • NPR is following by the minute the developments of the election night on its page, which you can find here, and which combines the news with important pieces of context to understand what is happening.
  • The reputed analysis and forecasting website FiveThirtyEight will also follow the developments closely. It will follow the news with statistical information and how the numbers that will be known throughout the night can (and should) be read. You can visit here.
  • CNN, CNBC, Fox News, and ABC will all have continuous broadcasts and with different orientations, which allows for some diversity of views, as will the major American newspapers – The New York Times, Washington Post, L.A. Times.
  • PBS News Hour will also cover this election night with an issue from 11 PM (Lisbon time) with comments and analysis of the results as they are known: you can follow this special issue here.
  • Politico magazine has a page on its election website that will demonstrate with more attractive visual elements the results as they are known, which you can see here.
  • And, of course, the big news agencies, which by their naturally more cautious characteristics, will give the results for granted. In addition to the AP, you can follow Reuters, Agence France-Presse, and Bloomberg. All of these have social media accounts, especially on Twitter, where they will report developments throughout the night.

How to stand the election night?

Considering how late it will get until the first results start coming in, it is possible that you will need some help. Here at FLAD, we recommend a lot of coffee and chocolate. 🙂