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All night long: What time will I have to stay up until to pull off an election all-nighter?

Our guide to the timings to be aware of.

Updated Nov 3rd 2020, 10:53 PM

xinhua-photos-of-the-day It's Trump or Biden for the White House. Source: PA Images

THERE’S NOTHING LIKE an election night in America. 

Whether it’s the stakes on the table or the reach of the world’s most powerful media, it’s something to be glued to over the next…let’s say 12 hours. 

So whether you’re a seasoned US election watcher or someone tuning in for the first time, we’ve put together a guide to help you stay awake and to know the timings that may be crucial. 

Isn’t it a bit trickier this year? 

Possibly, but we’ll have to see how close it is.

The reason the results may be a bit more complicated this year is due to the huge number of votes that have been cast either by mail or by way of early voting ahead of today. 

As former Clinton staffer Noel Rock pointed out in a very informative article on TheJournal.ie last week, there are several states where more early votes have been cast this year than were cast in total in 2016. 

One thing to know in this regard is that ballots cast on election day are more likely to favour Donald Trump, while early votes and postal ballots are more likely to favour Joe Biden

This gets difficult on election night because in some states early and postal votes will be counted first, while in other states they will be counted second. 

Some states will have sorted early votes in advance of election day, while in some states it would be illegal to do this. 

ny-early-voting-on-manhattans-upper-westside An early voter in New York. Source: PA Images

Florida, for example, is one state where early and postal ballots will be counted first. In fact, these ballots have already been sorted and tabulated ahead of election day.

This potentially means that Florida is one of the swing states that could be out first with some results. It’s worth noting though that, because postal ballots are being counted first, early tallies in Florida could look artificially high for Biden with more Trump-heavy votes coming later. 

All that puts an extra layer of uncertainty on things and a good rule of thumb is to be a little bit more cautious when it comes to reports of early tallies. 

CNN’s Washington bureau chief Sam Feist spoke abut this recently, explaining that postal ballots and early votes could mean that networks may take more time than usual to make projections. 

“This year, of course, we will layer in absentee votes throughout the night in our conversation,” he said. 

“And if we’re not ready to project the state — we’re not ready to project the state, that doesn’t mean that anything is wrong. And we will make it clear to our viewers and our readers, that there’s simply not enough information to make a projection.”

election-2020-early-voting-indiana Early voting lines in Indianapolis. Source: Michael Conroy/PA Images

In saying all this though, this cautious approach is likely to be more of a factor if the results are looking close, they’ll be less of a concern if either side is a clear winner.

Also, it’s completely normal that all the votes aren’t counted on election night anyway, so that fact is priced in when networks are delivering their all-important projections.  

Feist himself even acknowledges this, saying that CNN won’t be slow in projecting an overall winner if the gap is wide enough.

Rock around the clock

So with that in mind, some of they key times (all times Irish) to look out for are as follows: 

Polls in most of Florida (the state has two time zones) close at midnight our timeso much will be made about how the votes in that state are looking. Again though, with the early-voting health warning above. 

Four years ago, some of the earlier tallies in Florida had favoured Hillary Clinton at about 12.30am but by 4am it was clear Trump had won the all-important state

Polls in North Carolina and Ohio will close at 12.30am with NBC’s Chuck Todd saying this week that they might call the whole contest for Biden if he looks like he’s winning there at that point.   

Probably the most important state in the race this year is Pennsylvania, with Trump in particular needing to hold the state he won four years ago to be re-elected. 

Pennsylvania’s polls close at 1am, but this is one state that will not be sorting any of its early or postal votes until election day, meaning that counting could be slower. 

Pennsylvania was finally put into Trump’s column at about 6.30am four years ago, but things might be slower this year. 

Voting in the vast majority of Texas also closes at 1am, so look out for that to see if the Democrats can make a breakthrough. 

Other crucial states to watch are the Midwestern states of Wisconsin and Michigan, which along with Pennsylvania were the bedrock of Trump’s 2016 victory.

Both states are polling healthily for Biden but after Democrats were caught out there last time out they won’t be taking much for granted. Polls close in the states at 2am

Some of the other states to watch close at 2am, among them Arizona, Minnesota, and Wisconsin

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So, how late will I need to stay up?

Depending on how tight the races are, many US networks will begin calling the state-wide results soon after polling closes.

So in general, things will start to get interesting after 12.30am, but 2am might be a more realistic to get a clear idea of how things are playing out. 

The campaigns themselves usually have the most important information early doors about how things are looking, and it was just before 2am in 2016 that Hillary Clinton sent out an ominous sounding tweet about how she’d performed. 

It wasn’t clear at that point that Clinton was on the verge of defeat but things were trending that way. So that might possibly a good time to aim for if you want to get a sense of what way the wind is blowing, but if you want a conclusion you might have to wait a bit longer.

Clinton famously had an election night event scheduled in New York city four years ago, but instead of coming out to deliver a concession speech her campaign chairman John Podesta was sent out to say the campaign would be waiting until the morning.

In the two elections before that, both Mitt Romney and John McCain delivered election night concession speeches at about 5am.

So if you have a day of work ahead tomorrow, one option is to maybe set your alarm for maybe 5am and watch from then on. 

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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