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The 3 Key Questions for Election Day

Yuval Rosenberg
·3 min read

We’re almost there. After all the campaign drama, speeches, claims and counterclaims, we’re just hours away from Election Day, when the final votes will be cast — if not counted. We may not know the winner by the end of the night, but here’s what you need to know to get through the day.

Who’s going to win? Forecasters say former vice president Joe Biden has the edge, with the FiveThirtyEight model giving him a roughly 90% chance of victory and The Economist giving him a better than 99% chance of winning the popular vote and a 96% chance of winning the Electoral College. But as FiveThirtyEight notes, those forecasts could still be wrong:

“What’s important to remember is that Biden is favored, but there is still a path for Trump. Trump might be the underdog, and he needs a big polling error in his favor, but bigger polling errors have happened in the past. A 10 percent chance of winning, which is what our forecast gives Trump, is roughly the same as the odds that it’s raining in downtown Los Angeles. And it does rain there.”

And Zeynep Tufecki, the University of North Carolina sociologist who The New York Times recently said “keeps getting the big things right,” warned in a Times op-ed this weekend that, given all the uncertainties around this year’s voting, from the pandemic to polls to questions about turnout and vote counting, the models used by these forecasters are less useful than in the past — “and may even be harmful if people take them too seriously.”

So if you haven’t done it yet, vote. And then, hard as it may be, don’t stress out about the results — or at least realize that your stress isn’t going to change anything.

When will we know the results? We may know the winner by early Wednesday. Or we may not — and, despite what President Trump says, that’s ok. As Nicholas Riccardi of the Associated Press explains, that would not necessarily mean that anything is “broken, fraudulent, corrupted or wrong.”

As Maggie Astor writes at The New York Times, “No state ever reports final results on election night, and no state is legally expected to. Americans are accustomed to knowing who won on election night because news organizations project winners based on partial counts, not because the counting is actually completed that quickly.” This year, with millions more Americans having voted by mail, news organizations that track vote counts may need more time to be able to project a winner.

“In some states — like Colorado, which has been conducting elections by mail for years, or Florida, which allows officials to begin processing mail-in ballots before Election Day — it may still be possible to call winners on election night, depending on how close the races are,” Astor writes. “But in many other states — including the all-important Pennsylvania, where some counties will not begin counting mail-in ballots until Nov. 4 because of limited resources — it could take several days to get an accurate picture. If this happens, it will be evidence not of a conspiracy but of the electoral system working as it should, by counting every vote.”

What could go wrong? Oh boy. Do you really want to know? The list of possible risks is long, with fears percolating about anything and everything from technological problems to legal disputes to violence in the streets. One candidate or the other (read: Trump) could declare victory before the results are known or challenge the legitimacy of certain votes or the outcome, potentially setting up even more extreme scenarios for how the election could be contested. Let’s all hope for the best, but if you want to mentally prepare for the worst, you can read more here, here or here.

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