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Elections nights are often unpredictable but, perhaps with the exception of 2000, none has ever been as wild and unknown as Tuesday’s is expected to be. We may have a winner, we may not, or we may know but unofficially.
Here’s what to look for tomorrow night:
At 7 p.m. ET., polls in six states, including Georgia and most of Florida, will close. The western panhandle of Florida closes an hour later.
According to FiveThirtyEight, Florida’s results should be near complete a couple of hours after the polls close. Florida state law allows counties to process absentee ballots weeks in advance. With its 29 electoral votes, Florida is the biggest prize up for grabs each election. California’s 55 and New York’s 29 go blue. Texas’ 38 go red (for now).
If Joe Biden wins Florida, there won’t be an official winner at that moment, but President Donald Trump’s chances would be on life support. As shown on OutKick’s map breakdown last week, Trump’s clearest — and maybe only — path is to win Arizona, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Florida. He must also maintain leads in all his other states.
If Trump is declared the winner of Florida on Tuesday night, the race is still wide open.
At 7:30 p.m. ET, North Carolina and Ohio close. If Biden were to be declared the winner of North Carolina, Ohio, or Georgia, we could probably go to bed knowing that he will run the country for the next four years. If Trump wins all four, which he did in 2016, we will be one step closer to a down-to-the-wire thriller.
At 8 p.m. ET, 16 more states close, including Pennsylvania and most of Michigan. Pennsylvania is the key to the election. In fact, it’s possible that Pennsylvania decides the election. But it’s going to be a slow process. The state can’t begin to count early ballots until 7 a.m. Tuesday. Some counties won’t even try to finish until Election Day is complete. Pennsylvania could therefore take days, if we are lucky.
Michigan will be slow too but is less wide open. According to RealClearPolitics, Biden leads by an average of 5.1. I expect him to do well there.
Texas, too, closes at 8 p.m. ET, though I don’t consider Texas a true battleground state yet. I’d be stunned if it doesn’t go Trump’s way.
At 9 p.m. ET, several more states close, including Wisconsin, which most pollsters expect Biden to flip. These states may take a while to count.
Arizona’s polls also close at 9 p.m. This moment may be the turning point of the evening. Like Pennsylvania, I look at Arizona as a true toss-up. Per FiveThirtyEight, early and absentee Arizona votes from the weekend before the election should already be counted and released shortly after 10 p.m.
As election historians will quickly note, all eyes are on Maricopa County, which makes up more than half the state’s vote. Expect the winner of Maricopa County to take Arizona.
Chuck Todd agrees, saying on Meet the Press that if Biden wins any of the Southern states or Ohio early, he should win the election. If Trump wins them, we could be in for a long haul before knowing who wins.
Follow Bobby Burack on Twitter @burackbobby_.