Madeline Sponsler, FISM News
The coronavirus pandemic, an unprecedented number of early ballots, uncertainty about how these votes will be counted, and ongoing legal battles have made the outcome of the 2020 U.S. presidential election one of the hardest to predict.
As Americans head to polling stations on Tuesday, the question is not just whether Republican President Donald Trump will win a second four-year term or be defeated by his Democratic rival Joe Biden, but also when the result will be known.
The latest opinion polls show the race is close enough in the battleground states to swing the outcome to either party, even as Biden leads Trump in national polls.
Some of these states do not begin to count early votes until after polling stations close, and some allow ballots that arrive after Election Day to be included as long as they are postmarked by Nov. 3. If the presidential race depends on the outcomes in these states, America could be waiting for days.
Experts have cautioned against reading too much into early returns, which could be distorted by how each state processes the votes not cast in-person on Election Day.
Here are some moments to look for on Tuesday and beyond:
5 p.m. ET – Edison Research will release preliminary findings from its exit polls, which are based on in-person interviews with voters on Election Day, in-person interviews at early voting centers before Nov. 3, and telephone interviews with people who voted by mail.
The initial data will look at national and state voter sentiment and motivations, but not detailed percentage estimates. Results from ballot questions in individual states will be released after voting ends in the state.
Edison will refine and update its national and state exit poll results through the night, gathering more voter responses and adjusting the weightings to reflect turnout.
States have until this date, known as the “safe harbor” deadline under federal law, to resolve any disputes over their vote totals and certify the winner. If a state fails to finalize its vote count by then, Congress is no longer required to accept its results under the Electoral College system.
Members of the Electoral College cast their ballots for president. The candidate who receives a majority of the 538 electoral votes available, or 270, wins the presidency.
In all but two states, the winner of the state’s popular vote earns all its electoral votes, which are apportioned by population. In Maine and Nebraska, the statewide popular vote winner is awarded two electoral votes, and the remaining electoral votes are allocated to the popular vote winner in each of the state’s congressional districts.
JAN. 6, 2021
Congress meets at 1 p.m. ET in Washington to count the electoral votes and declare a winner.
JAN. 20, 2021
Inauguration Day. The winner and his running mate are sworn in as president and vice president at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.
Sourced from Reuters, edited for brevity