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 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.
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):
Rumours usually fly about exit polls at this stage, but no polls have actually closed before midnight.
Kentucky (8) and West Virginia (5) will by now be called for Trump.
Vermont (3) will by now be called for Clinton.
Other than rumours, we will still know relatively little at this stage.
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.
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.
Trump should be leading at this stage on at least 123, but Clinton closing on at least 93.
Louisiana (8), 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.
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.
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 189.
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.
Montana (3) and Alaska (3) will immediately be called for Trump.
Colorado (9) and Nevada (6) will at this stage be too close to call.
Virginia (13) should at this stage be too close to call; the earlier the call for Clinton, the better for her.
Utah (6) may at this stage be too close to call because of a local Independent candidate, but should soon be called for Trump.
All polls are now closed.
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 real problem for her.
Iowa (5) should by now be called for Trump if he is to win.
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.
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 polling day. Regardless, if the outcome is still unclear at this stage, we are probably heading for recounts and the courts.