Pennsylvania voters wait to cast their ballots in Philadelphia on Oct. 27, the state's last day for early voting in person.

 

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Election Day

TYT Guide to Swing-State Election Returns

The presidency may come down to just one state; here's your guide to the laws, history, and officials of the states most likely to play a role

Here’s what you need to know while watching the election returns. We all know it’s not a national vote: You can win the most votes and still lose the election. But it’s also not as simple as winning the most Electoral College votes.

The presidential election is a complicated process involving federal rules, state rules, and even county rules. It also consists of multiple steps which, historically, have been overlooked because the outcome was already understood. This year, however, what happens on election night could very well determine whether those formalities play out the way they should, or whether yet another set of norms is undermined and overturned to subvert the will of the people. Those norms can be guarded only if the public knows the facts and holds their media and leaders accountable to those facts.

Here are some of the vulnerable points between the vote and the inauguration: Each state certifies their final count

  • By Dec. 14, governors report to Congress the victor in their state and their slate of electors
  • Electors meet and vote in each state and report their results to Congress
  • On Jan. 6, 2021, Electoral College votes are counted in a joint session of the new Congress

That’s the process every four years. But you may have noticed that a lot of people have a chance to meddle with this process -- including state legislatures, which theoretically can send their own slate of electors to Congress. In fact, pretty much anyone can send their own Electoral College slate to Congress…and Congress can pick whichever one it wants.

If any of these gambits are tried, their success will likely be determined not by the law, but by the power of popular opinion. Because the process is so arcane and little-covered, there is no broad-based public consensus about what norms and fairness should look like -- which creates opportunities to elevate non-normal processes (such as alternative electoral slates) in a way that makes them seem appropriate. And fueling chaos -- or the perception of chaos -- could open the door for “remedies” that rob some Americans of their votes, or throw the decision-making to political officials instead of the voters.

For instance, if county officials call for an end to counting votes, that could negate the votes of absentee voters and others who vote by mail -- such as expatriates or Americans serving overseas. But legal fights over these vote counts could also delay state certification of the vote tallies. And in that case, governors are empowered to report to Congress whoever they consider the winner. Or state legislatures could step in to “resolve” the alleged chaos by sending their own slate of electors to Congress.

What IS different this year is coronavirus -- and degraded mail service. This means that mail-in ballots are now both a significant proportion of the final, and also may differ in their partisan makeup. Specifically, more Trump voters are expected to vote in person on Election Day, while more Biden voters are expected to vote early and/or by mail. This means that the media models for “calling” winners are a lot less reliable.

Whatever happens, whether the process plays out the way it’s supposed to this year depends a lot on what the public and their leaders do and say on Election Day and immediately after the polls close.

Key point:

There is no official winner on Election Night; the “calls” that we see on TV every year are projections -- aka guesses -- made by media organizations based on polling and statistical models. There has never, in U.S. history, been a candidate who officially won the presidency on Election Day.

Polls suggest that votes cast early and by mail are disproportionately Democratic. Depending on when states count votes of both kinds, these factors could lead early results to skew for or against either party. In our guide to key swing states, we note these factors and offer some guidance on how they could create misleading perceptions in early returns.

As recent elections have taught us, however, the national results could hinge on just a handful of disputed states, or just one. And the results there could hinge on the specific people and institutions in those states. So here’s what to know on election night about the states most likely to play pivotal roles in the outcome -- especially if the fight drags on. (Although some races are noted in addition to the presidency, keep in mind that all House seats are up for grabs, but only some Senate and gubernatorial ones are.)


Florida (29 Electoral College votes)

Polls Close

The Count

  • Began counting early ballots weeks ago
  • Will not count ballots received after Election Day

The Results

  • 7pm eastern / 4pm pacific: Some counties can start reporting
  • 8:30 pm eastern / 5:30 pm pacific: Officials expect to report votes cast prior to Election Day
  • Election night: Counties required to update results at least every 45 minutes
  • Nov. 17: Certification

Early Results

  • 11/2: Early-voting statistics, with breakdown of votes cast by each party
  • Early results are expected to favor Joe Biden, as Florida is already counting ballots cast early and by mail, which tend to be cast disproportionately by Democrats. Later results are expected to favor Pres. Trump more.

2020 Early Turnout

  • Votes cast before Election Day, as a percentage of total votes cast in 2016: 93.7%

2020 Polling Average

  • 11/2: Biden 48.9%, Trump 46.5%

2016 Polling Average

  • Final: Trump 46.6%, Clinton 46.4%

2016 Results

  • Final: Trump 48.6%, Clinton 47.4%

Voting Method

Voter Rights

Legal Issues

  • Officials reportedly have flagged alleged problems, such as missing signatures, at disproportionately high rates with ballots mailed in by people of color and young voters, who have until Thursday to remedy any problems
  • Reportedly more than 15,000 mail ballots have already been declared ineligible this year

Elections History

  • 2018: Senate results delayed by legal battle over mail-in ballot signatures

Governor

  • Ron DeSantis (R)

Quote: “I can tell you on election night, when all of the people in the media are licking their chops because they want to see the president defeated, the minute that Florida starts to turn, and the Panhandle comes in, you’re going to see all the smiles at CNN turn to tears, and they’re going to cry.” Quote: “Liberal Democrats like Michael Bloomberg and George Soros have run up the score on Republicans with vote by mail ballots.”

Secretary of State

  • Laurel M. Lee (R)

Quote: “[V]oting by mail is something for which we have a lot of experience…It’s something that we know how to do well” Quote: “Don't believe everything you read or hear. Florida has dedicated over $21 million in the last two years to ensure elections security and strengthen its cyber posture.”

State Legislature

  • Senate - Republican-controlled (23 Republicans, 17 Democrats)
  • House of Representatives - Republican-controlled (73 Republicans, 47 Democrats)

Georgia (16 Electoral College votes)

Polls Close

The Count

The Results

  • Wednesday: Most winners expected to be announced
  • Thursday: Latest that “very, very close” races are expected to be announced
  • Nov. 20: Certification

Early Results

  • 11/2: Early-voting statistics, with some breakdowns of votes cast
  • Officials say a large volume of mailed ballots could take a couple of days to count, suggesting early leads by Republican candidates could diminish as mail-in ballots are counted

Voting Method

2020 Early Turnout

  • Votes cast before Election Day, as a percentage of total votes cast in 2016: 93.9%

2020 Polling Average

  • 11/2: Biden 48.3%, Trump 47.3%

2016 Polling Average

  • Final: Trump 49.2%, Clinton 44.4%

2016 Results

  • Final: Trump 50.5%, Clinton 45.4%

Other Races

  • Senate: Sen. David Perdue (R) vs. Jon Osoff (D)
  • Senate: Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R) vs. numerous Democrats, with top two candidates going to Jan. 5, 2021, runoff if no one wins a majority

Voter Rights

Legal Issues

  • Appeals court overrode a judicial ruling to give voters three additional days to return absentee ballots

Elections History

  • 2020: Machine malfunctions contributed to long lines in primary voting
  • 2020: Fulton County violated state law during primary voting, and a monitor with experience helping African nations with elections was appointed for the general election and potential Senate runoff in January
  • 2016: Republican mayor Tweeted the wrong election day for Democrats to vote

Governor

  • Brian Kemp (R)

Filed an absentee-ballot request Friday due to his quarantine for possible exposure to coronavirus and worried he wouldn't be able to vote

Secretary of State

  • Brad Raffensperger (R)

Quote: “This will be the first time we’ve ever done a statewide audit. And instead of taking five or six years like all the other states have done, we’re going to do that this year…every election is going to be audited…When we do that statewide audit, then we can verify those results. And that’s when people can feel confident about the results…100% of people will have confidence that their vote was correctly counted.” Quote: “Tomorrow will be a record — and successful — election here in Georgia…I want to assure all voters regardless of party or ideology, that the outcome of the election will be accurate. We will have an audit to verify the results. You can all have faith in the outcome.” Quote: “There’s never been a perfect election…Tomorrow [Election Day], we’ll have challenges.” Asked about voter suppression, Raffensperger discussed measures ostensibly intended to combat voter fraud, which is virtually non-existent.

State Legislature

  • Senate - Republican-controlled (35 Republicans, 21 Democrats)
  • House of Representatives - Republican-controlled (105 Republicans, 75 Democrats)

Michigan (16 Electoral College votes)

Polls Close

The Count

  • Begins Election Day in some jurisdictions; the day before in others
  • Will not count ballots received after Election Day

The Results

  • 8 pm eastern / 5pm pacific: The secretary of state expects every vote to be counted
  • Friday: Possible day for full results, officials reportedly said
  • Nov. 23: Board of Canvassers meet to canvass general-election results

Early Results

  • 11/2: Early-voting statistics, with some breakdowns of votes cast
  • Officials say a large volume of mailed ballots could take a couple of days to count, suggesting early leads by Republican candidates could diminish as mail-in ballots are counted

Voting Method

2020 Early Turnout

  • Votes cast before Election Day, as a percentage of total votes cast in 2016: 52.8%

2020 Polling Average

  • 11/2: Biden 51.1%, Trump 43%

2016 Polling Average

  • Final: Clinton 45.4%, Trump 42.0%

2016 Results

  • Final: Trump 47.3%, Clinton 47.0%

Other Races

  • Senate: Sen. Gary Peters (D) vs. John James (R)

Voter Rights

Elections History

  • August, 2020: Detroit primary results delayed after delayed polling site openings, location changes, and worker shortages
  • August, 2020: About 10,000 absentee ballots rejected in primary voting
  • August, 2020: USPS said it could not guarantee all general-election mail-in ballots would be delivered in time to be counted
  • 2016: Optical scanners jammed in 59 percent of precincts

Governor

  • Gretchen Whitmer (D)

Targeted by right-wing kidnapping plot, which Pres. Trump has not condemned

Secretary of State

  • Jocelyn Benson (D)

Quote: “We should be prepared for this to be closer to an election week as opposed to an Election Day.”

State Legislature

  • Senate - Republican-controlled (22 Republicans, 16 Democrats)
  • House of Representatives - Republican-controlled (58 Republicans, 52 Democrats 52)

North Carolina (15 Electoral College votes)

Polls Close

  • 7:30pm eastern / 4:30pm pacific
  • 8:15pm eastern / 5:15pm pacific: Four locations that opened late will also close late, no later than 45 minutes after the regular closing time, according to a vote today by state election officials.

The Count

  • Nov. 12: Last day accepting ballots postmarked before Election Day

The Results

  • 7:30pm eastern / 4:30pm pacific: Expected to report early and mailed ballots
  • 8:30pm - 1am eastern / 5:30pm eastern - 10pm pacific: Expected to report ballots cast on Election Day
  • Election Day: Estimated 98 percent of ballots will be reported
  • Nov. 24: State Board of Elections canvasses and authenticates final vote results

Early Results

  • 11/2: Early-voting statistics, with breakdown of votes cast by each party
  • Initial results will include votes cast early, which are likely to favor Biden. Ballots counted later are expected to favor Trump

2020 Early Turnout

  • Votes cast before Election Day, as a percentage of total votes cast in 2016: 95.4%

Voting Method

2020 Polling Average

  • 11/2: Biden 48.9%, Trump 47%

2016 Polling Average

  • Final: Trump 46.5%, Clinton 45.5%

2016 Results

  • 2016: Trump 49.9%, Clinton 46.2%

Other Races

  • Senate: Sen. Thom Tillis (R) vs. Cal Cunningham (D)
  • Governor: Gov. Roy Cooper (D) vs. Dan Forest (R)

Voter Rights

Legal Issues

  • The Supreme Court rejected a Republican attempt to kill the state’s extension of its absentee ballot deadline due to COVID-19

Elections History

  • Oct. 31: Police pepper-sprayed Americans marching to vote on the state’s last day of early voting
  • 2016: Technical issues led to processing delays and requests for extended hours
  • 2016: A Durham precinct ran out of voter forms

Governor

  • Roy Cooper (D)

Secretary of State

  • Elaine F. Marshall (D)

State Legislature

  • Senate - Republican-controlled (29 Republicans, 21 Democrats)
  • House of Representatives - Republican-controlled (65 Republicans, 55 Democrats)

Ohio (18 Electoral College votes)

Polls close

The Count

  • Nov. 13: Last day accepting ballots postmarked before Election Day

The Results

  • 8pm eastern / 5pm pacific: Expected to report all ballots cast prior to Election Day and begin reporting votes cast in person or received by Election Day
  • After Election Day: No additional results will be reported until official certification, no later than Nov. 28
  • Nov. 24: Board of Elections must complete vote canvassing
  • Nov. 28: Deadline for all ballots to be counted, including those postmarked by Election Day (and received by Nov. 13), and final results to be announced and certified

Early Results

  • 11/2: Early-voting statistics, with some breakdowns of votes cast
  • Early results will include votes cast early, which are likely to favor Biden. Ballots counted later are expected to tilt more toward Trump, although mailed ballots received after Election Day may favor Biden.

2020 Early Turnout

  • Votes cast before Election Day, as a percentage of total votes cast in 2016: 51.8%

Voting Method

2020 Polling Average

  • 11/2: Biden 47.4%, Trump 46.7%

2016 Polling Average

  • Final: Trump 45.8%, Clinton 42.3%

2016 Results

  • 2016: Trump 51.3%, Clinton 43.2%

Voter Rights

Elections History

  • 10/12/2020 - Pro-Trump comment posted on county Board of Elections, reportedly by mistake

Governor

  • Mike DeWine (R)

Defended Trump administration-backed state laws purging voters who didn't vote in past elections if they fail to respond to state confirmation requests

Secretary of State

  • Frank LaRose (R)

Quote: "Attempted voter suppression is unacceptable & will not be tolerated. When we saw limited reports of this happening in Ohio, we immediately referred the matter to state & federal law enforcement.”

State Legislature

  • Senate - Republican-controlled (24 Republicans, 9 Democrats)
  • House of Representatives - Republican-controlled (61 Republicans, 38 Democrats)

Pennsylvania (20 Electoral College votes)

Polls Close

The Count

  • 7am eastern / 4am pacific: Philadelphia and other areas expected to begin counting and continue 24/7
  • 8pm eastern / 5pm pacific: Some counties start to count now or Wednesday morning
  • 11pm eastern / 9pm pacific: Erie County to start tabulating absentee ballots, pausing at 2am eastern and resuming Wednesday morning
  • Nov. 6: Last day accepting ballots postmarked before Election Day

The Results

  • Counties reportedly have been instructed to provide updated counts rather than wait until counts are completed
  • Friday: “Overwhelming majority” of votes expected to be counted
  • Nov. 11: State Return Board to continue canvassing absentee and overseas votes
  • Nov. 23: Deadline for counties’ certification

Early Results

  • 11/2: Early-voting statistics, with breakdown of votes cast by each party
  • Mail-in votes, which are expected to favor Biden, may not be counted until later, which may skew early impressions of the results

2020 Early Turnout

  • Votes cast before Election Day, as a percentage of total votes cast in 2016: 39.2%

Voting Method

2020 Polling Average

  • 11/2: Biden 50.3%, Trump 45.4%

2016 Polling Average

  • Final: Clinton 46.2%, Trump 44.3%

2016 Results

  • Final: Trump 48.2%, Clinton 47.5%

Voter Rights

Legal Issues

  • Negotiations over permitting early vote-counting broke down, and a wave of legal challenges are expected
  • The Supreme Court refused to hear Republican arguments against the absentee-vote deadline

Elections History

  • 2020: Two weeks after this year’s primaries, officials were still counting votes
  • 2016: Republicans claimed multiple incidents of voter intimidation
  • 2016: Some Republican voters said Trump votes were switched to Clinton votes

Governor

  • Tom Wolf (D)

Secretary of State

  • Kathy Boockvar (D)

Quote: “It’s such an easy fix,” regarding request to legislature to change state election law to permit early ballot processing Quote: "There is nobody that would want to see the men and women serving our country overseas or anywhere else disenfranchised through disinformation and false statements…"

State Legislature

  • Senate - Republican-controlled (29 Republicans, 21 Democrats)
  • House of Representatives - Republican-controlled (110 Republicans, 93 Democrats)

Wisconsin (10 Electoral College votes)

Polls Close

The Count

  • Election Day: Absentee ballot counting begins
  • Will not count ballots received after Election Day

The Results

  • Wednesday, 6am eastern / 3am pacific: Latest expected time for results from Milwaukee County, which may be last county to report
  • Wednesday: State results expected, if not already known election night
  • Dec. 1: Deadline for Elections Commission chair to certify results

Early Results

  • 11/2: Early-voting statistics, with some breakdowns of votes cast
  • Most municipalities do not count ballots in any particular order, but 39 reportedly count absentee ballots separately and so may report in-person votes first
  • Some jurisdictions may count absentee ballots after in-person votes

2020 Early Turnout

  • Votes cast before Election Day, as a percentage of total votes cast in 2016: 63.4%

Voting Method

2020 Polling Average

  • 11/2: Biden 51.9%, Trump 43.7%

2016 Polling Average

  • Final: Clinton 46.8%, Trump 40.3%

2016 Results

  • 2016: Trump 47.2%, Clinton 46.5%

Voter Rights

Legal Issues

  • Election officials say state law does not give state legislators the legal power to submit their own slate of electors to Congress

Governor

  • Tony Evers (D)

Secretary of State

  • Doug La Follette (D)

State Legislature

  • Senate - Republican-controlled (19 Republicans, 14 Democrats)
  • Assembly - Republican-controlled (63 Republicans, 36 Democrats)

Zoltan Lucas is an intern for TYT Investigates.

Jonathan Larsen is TYT’s managing editor. You can find him on Twitter @JTLarsen.

If you have tips on this subject or others you can contact us using Proton Mail at [email protected]. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to stay on top of exclusive news stories from The Young Turks.

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