How US election night could unfold

By Ian Jones, PA
·4-min read

On the night of the US presidential election, November 3, polls will close at different times across the United States, usually on the hour.

As soon as this happens, a state can be “called” by the US news networks for either Donald Trump or Joe Biden.

This will take place only when the networks are confident that a candidate is going to win.

For states that traditionally vote solidly Republican (such as Wyoming and Oklahoma) or Democrat (California and New York), it is likely to happen almost the moment the polls close, before a single vote has been counted.

But where the race is expected to be close, in swing states such as Florida, Michigan or Pennsylvania, the networks will want to wait until a significant number of votes are actually counted and reported before making a projection. And because of this, some states might not be called for hours, and possibly days.

Here is a guide to how US election night is likely to unfold, based on the latest available information for when polls are due to close. In some states polls close at different times in different counties, and in these cases the time given is the one for when the majority of polls are expected to close. All times are GMT.

ELECTION US HourByHour
(PA Graphics)

– 11pm November 3
Mr Trump should be the first candidate to pick up votes, when polls close in two Republican strongholds: Kentucky and Indiana.

– 12am November 4
Mr Biden will be off the mark when polls close in two safe Democratic states: Virginia and Vermont. South Carolina, another safe Republican state, should be called for Mr Trump. Polls also close in two of the swing states, where the result could go either way: Florida and Georgia. Neither state is likely to be called immediately, but Florida – always a nailbiter – is expected to count its votes quickly and as such will give an early indication of how both the candidates are faring.

– 12.30am
West Virginia, a safe Republican state, should be called for Mr Trump. Two other states that Mr Trump won in 2016, North Carolina and Ohio, also close their polls at this point – though don’t expect either to be called straightaway. Both could see a strong showing by Mr Biden, meaning the result may be very close.

– 1am
A rush of projections are likely when polls close in more than a dozen safe states. Mr Biden should pick up the solid Democratic states of Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Washington DC. Mr Trump will see Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Tennessee added to his tally. Texas will be one to watch – traditionally Republican, it is edging closer to becoming a swing state though probably won’t change hands this year.

Polls are also due to close in two absolutely crucial swing states, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Both were solidly Democrat until Mr Trump won them narrowly in 2016, and both have been heavily targeted by Mr Biden. However due to the huge number of postal and early votes cast this year, which will need to be sorted and counted, the outcome in these two states might not be clear for some time.

US Election
(PA Graphics)

– 1.30am
Polls close in Arkansas, another strongly Republican state.

– 2am
Both candidates ought to collect a decent number of votes when polls close in a handful of strongholds. Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming should all be called for Mr Trump. Mr Biden will collect Colorado, New Mexico and New York. Three swing states are also up for grabs, all of which were won by Mr Trump in 2016: Arizona, Minnesota and Wisconsin – though if the results are close, the winner in all three states might not be known for days.

– 3am
Mr Trump will add three more states to his tally when polls close in the safe Republican states of Idaho, Montana and Utah. Nevada should be called for Mr Biden. Polls also close in the last of the swing states, Iowa, which Barack Obama won in 2008 and 2012, Mr Trump won in 2016, and where Mr Biden could have an outside chance of a gain.

– 4am
Mr Biden’s numbers will get a boost when polls close in three very safe Democratic states: California, Oregon and Washington.

– 5am
Polls close in another safe Democratic state, Hawaii.

– 6am
Alaska is the last state to conclude voting, and should be called for Mr Trump.