Americans go to the polls on Tuesday to elect their House of Representatives (lower legislative house, from 435 districts electing one each), a third of their Senate (one from two thirds of states), various State legislators… and of course their President (and Vice President).
The President (and Vice) is elected by an Electoral College of 538 delegates; 435 from each State in proportion to population, another 100 two from each State regardless of size, and 3 from the District of Columbia (the federal capital of Washington). Of the 50 States, 48 have their delegates elected “winner takes all”; thus, whichever candidate wins California gets all 55 available delegates from California voting for them. The remaining two, Maine and Nebraska, appoint two delegates based on the State-wide result and the remainder (two in Maine and three in Nebraska) individually based on the winner in each Congressional District.
A candidate requires only a plurality of votes to win the state (i.e. more votes than anyone else, regardless of whether this constitutes an absolute majority), but needs an absolute majority of the Electoral College (270 delegates) to win the election. Should no candidate attain this, regardless of who wins the overall popular vote or who has most delegates, the President is elected by the House of Representatives and the Vice by the Senate.
The two main candidates are Hillary Clinton (D-Democrat) and Donald Trump (R-Republican). The only other candidate running in all 50 states is Gary Johnson (L-Libertarian).
The United States is of course spread across numerous time zones and, in any case, each State manages the election. Thus electoral law varies across the country, including what the arrangements are for balloting, the circumstances under which a candidate may appear on the ballot paper, and the time at which polls close.
Additionally, there are variations in when networks feel content to “call” States for one candidate or another, bearing in mind the embarrassment caused by the erroneous early call of Florida for Al Gore in 2000. Nevertheless “calling”, based on early vote counts and exit polls, remains a feature of the night.
This diagram from the Washington Post, showing how the States voted last time (blue Democrat; red Republican) demonstrates that it is State population, not area, which counts – beware the standard maps!
So, what are we looking out for (with thanks to the Washington Post and APCO Worldwide), all times GMT (EST+5, PST +8, CET -1)?
Closing times refer to the whole state, given with the relevant number of Electoral Votes and the winning party in 2012 in brackets. Clinton can afford to lose 62 Electoral Votes versus 2012 and still win.
Rumours usually fly about exit polls at this stage, but no States have all polls actually closed before midnight.
Be very careful with such rumours. They usually have no basis in fact whatsoever! Wait for actual counts before making any assumptions as to the winner.
Now closed: Georgia (16-R), Indiana (11-R), Kentucky (8-R), South Carolina (9-R), Vermont (3-D), Virginia (13-D).
Kentucky (8) and West Virginia (5) will by now be called for Trump.
Vermont (3) will by now be called for Clinton.
Virginia (13) may be formally deemed too close to call at this hour – if it is called for either candidate (probably Clinton), that is a very good early sign.
Otherwise, realistically we are still stuck with entirely unreliable rumours for another hour or so!
Now closed: North Carolina (15-R), Ohio (18-D), West Virginia (5-R); Alabama (9-R), Connecticut (7-D), Delaware (3-D), DC (3-D), Florida (29-D), Illinois (20-D), Maine (4-D), Maryland (10-D), Massachusetts (11-D), Mississippi (6-R), Missouri (10-R), New Hampshire (4-D), New Jersey (14-D), Oklahoma (7-R), Pennsylvania (20-D), Rhode Island (4-D), Tennessee (11-R).
Texas (38), Indiana (11), Tennessee (11), Alabama (9), South Carolina (9) and Oklahoma (7) will by now be called for Trump.
Massachusetts (11), Maryland (10), Rhode Island (4) and the District of Columbia (3) will by now be called for Clinton.
Illinois (20), Connecticut (7) and Delaware (3) should by now be called for Clinton; any significant delay is a real problem for her.
New Jersey (14) may initially be deemed too close to call but should soon be called for Clinton.
Georgia (14) should initially be deemed too close to call but may soon be called for Trump.
Maine‘s 2 state votes and one of its districts should be called for Clinton, but its other district may be too close to call.
North Carolina (15) and New Hampshire (4) should at this stage be too close to call – an early call for either candidate in either state, particularly for Clinton in North Carolina, would be big; do not expect either to be called soon, however.
Trump should be on at least 98 and Clinton 64 at this stage if all is as expected.
Now closed: Arkansas (6-R); Arizona (11-R), Colorado (9-D), Kansas (6-R), Louisiana (8-R), Michigan (16-D), Minnesota (10-D), Nebraska (5-R), New Mexico (5-D), New York (29-D), South Dakota (3-R), Texas (38-R), Wisconsin (10-D), Wyoming (3-R).
Arkansas (6), Kansas (6), Mississippi (6) and Wyoming (3) will by now be called for Trump, as will Nebraska‘s 2 state votes and 2 of its districts (but not the third).
New York (29) will by now be called for Clinton.
Michigan (16) and Wisconsin (10) should at this stage be deemed too close to call; they will probably not be called for some time.
Virginia (13) may still be deemed too close to call; because of the vagaries of counting there, nothing is to be read into that.
Trump should be leading at this stage on at least 123, but Clinton closing on at least 93.
If, however, this is not the case and a landslide is apparent, the winner may be formally called over the next hour or so.
Now closed: Iowa (6-D), Montana (3-R), Nevada (6-D), Utah (6-R).
Louisiana (8), Montana (3), North Dakota (3) and South Dakota (3) will by now be called for Trump.
Pennsylvania (20) will be deemed too close to call; if it is close, this state may well be decisive, but the winner may not be known for some time.
Ohio (18), Minnesota (10) and New Mexico (5) should also at this stage be deemed too close to call.
New Jersey (14) should by now be called for Clinton and Georgia (14) for Trump; ongoing delays in either signify real problems for the supposed winner.
North Carolina (15) and New Hampshire (4) may finally be called around now; they are both significant, particularly if they change hands (on the basis of the last election, the former should go for Trump and the latter for Clinton).
Trump must be extending his lead on at least 151 and probably 166 at this stage to win; Clinton must be on 107 and probably 111.
Now closed: California (55-D), Hawaii (4-D), Idaho (4-R), North Dakota (3-R), Oregon (7-D), Washington (12-D).
California (55) and Hawaii (4) will by now be called for Clinton.
Missouri (10) and Idaho (4) will by now be called for Trump.
Florida (29) and Iowa (6) will at this stage be deemed too close to call.
Washington (12) and Oregon (7) should initially be deemed too close to call, but should over the next period be called for Clinton.
Arizona (11) should initially be deemed too close to call, but should over the next period be called for Trump.
Virginia (13) should by now be called for Clinton, if she is to win.
If it is to be a close election, the scores should now show it – with Trump on at least 180 rising towards 191 and Clinton 170 rising towards perhaps 202.
On the other hand, if either candidate has won clearly, this will be apparent by now and networks may begin to call it at this time.
All polls are now closed. Last closing is Alaska (3-R).
Colorado (9) and Nevada (6) will at this stage be too close to call.
Utah (6) may at this stage be too close to call because of a local Independent candidate McMullan, but should soon be called for Trump.
Alaska (3) may initially be deemed too close to call, but should soon be called for Trump.
Meanwhile, Michigan (16) and Wisconsin (10) should by now have been called for Clinton; if either has not been, particularly if there is a real chance she has lost either, it is a potential problem for her.
Iowa (5) should by now be called for Trump if he is to win.
Florida (29) counts quickly, so watch for it being called any time now.
Trump could still win from 202, Clinton probably needs to be ahead now around 215–228. That said, the overall scores could be affected by a range of things – the issue really is whether close States are being called, and for whom.
Ohio (18) should by now have been called for Trump; if it has not, it is a real problem for him.
Minnesota (10) and New Mexico (5) should by now have been called for Clinton (the latter may be delayed somewhat because of a strong showing from Libertarian Johnson).
Unless it is very close, we should by now have a clear idea of the winner. If it is very close, all eyes should be on Pennsylvania (20) and perhaps Colorado (9).
Virginia (13) should be now have been called for Clinton, if she is still in with a chance.
Florida (29) may by now have been called for Trump, if he is still in with a chance.
If it is very, very close, we may even be looking at one of Maine‘s and one of Nebraska‘s districts.
We should now have calls everywhere, including in Pennsylvania (20), Colorado (9) and Nevada (6), any of which could be decisive if it is very close.
If it is close, we may also have to wait in some cases for mailed votes. Some States allow these up to two weeks after polling day, provided they are postmarked no later than today. Regardless, if the outcome is still unclear at this stage, we are probably heading for recounts and the courts.
House of Representatives
The Republicans are likely to lose seats but keep control of the House; the way the districts are proportioned is hugely in their favour (they have, in effect, an in-built 40-50 seat advantage because of the way the boundaries are drawn).
Democrats needs to pick up 4-5 seats in the Senate to take a majority; this is probable, as most seats being defended (from 2010) are Republican.
It is a tricky call because this election is like no other, but the likeliest of many conceivable outcomes according to the pundits is a Clinton win declared around 6am GMT (ending on just over 300 Electoral Votes). But many other outcomes, including a landslide either way (Trump could conceivably go as high as 332; Clinton as high as 370), are possible – so it may be worth being up from about 3am on!
My own instinct is Clinton will do poorly in the Mid West (perhaps even losing Michigan) but well in the South West (doing well in places like Arizona) to move over the 270 target as western states’ polls close – but that only has to be ever so slightly out for her not to win at all, an outcome I am more concerned about than many of the aforementioned pundits.
We shall see!