Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s Election Update for Saturday, October 31! According to the FiveThirtyEight forecast,
“>1Joe Biden has a 90 in 100 chance of becoming the 46th president of the United States, while President Trump still has a 10 in 100 chance of winning reelection. In the Senate, Democrats have a 78 in 100 chance of taking control, while the party is also a 98 in 100 favorite to keep the House.2
But this year, in addition to the burning question of “Who will win?” people are almost as eager to know, “When will we know the results?” To help answer that, FiveThirtyEight published a comprehensive guide to following the returns on election night, including when the polls close in each state and what time we might get semi-final results. So let’s walk through election night hour by hour, using our forecast as a guide to get a better understanding of just how many electoral votes might be accounted for, including how many Trump and Biden can each expect to win. (Spoiler: Unless one of them has a really good night, it’s unlikely that either will hit 270 electoral votes on election night.)
7 p.m. Eastern
|chance of winning|
The earliest that TV networks, the Associated Press and other election adjudicators will be able to officially project the winner in any state is 7 p.m. Eastern, when the last polls close in six states. Of these, Indiana, Kentucky and South Carolina all have at least a 92 in 100 chance of going to Trump, so let’s assume those 28 electoral votes go in the Republican column (these states should report enough votes early that they can be quickly projected). But Vermont and Virginia are also at least 99 percent likely to go for Biden and should report results quickly, so he will probably quickly earn their combined 16 electoral votes, putting Trump at 28 and Biden at 16.
The one wild card in this first batch of closings is Georgia and who will win its 16 electoral votes. And because our forecast is expecting a very tight race there, it may take days before we have an answer to that question.
7:30 p.m. Eastern
|chance of winning|
Trump will almost certainly win West Virginia and its five electoral votes, and that should be apparent early in the night. However, North Carolina and Ohio are more up in the air, according to our forecast. If Biden is having a really good night, it’s conceivable that we’ll know who won in both states on election night because both count most of their votes relatively quickly; if that happens, Biden would gain 33 electoral votes from them combined.
However, if these states are as close as our forecast thinks they’ll be, they could remain unprojected for days as we wait for the last few mail-in ballots to arrive (both states accept mail-in ballots that are received after Election Day as long as they are properly postmarked). On the other hand, if Trump is having a good night, these states could be projected for him, and he could gain a total of 38 electoral votes from states that stop voting at 7:30 p.m.
8 p.m. Eastern
|chance of winning|
We might get a bonanza of results starting at 8 p.m. And several states where polls close at that time will probably be projected by ABC News and other media outlets pretty quickly: Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Tennessee all have at least a 91 in 100 chance of voting for Trump, so it’s probably safe to say he will be quickly awarded their 43 combined electoral votes. Likewise, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maine’s 1st Congressional District, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island will probably be projected for Biden, given that he has at least an 89 in 100 chance of winning all those places. That’s worth 45 more electoral votes for the Democrat.
Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., will also stop voting at 8 p.m. Eastern and are overwhelmingly likely to vote for Biden. However, they are expected to count their votes more slowly, so it’s less certain when we’ll have an idea of who won here. Given just how blue these states are, though, let’s assume that we will know enough at some point on election night to project them. That’ll (eventually) be another 34 electoral votes for Biden.