With record numbers of early votes and mail-in votes amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Election Night 2020 should be one unlike any other.
Typically, forecasters and analysts have a pretty good idea which presidential candidate will prevail in the electoral college within a few hours of the final polls closing. But it's not uncommon for the outcome of the election to remain in doubt for several days — or even, like in 2000, several weeks.
This year, record-breaking numbers of mail-in and early votes make it less likely that the race will be decided on Tuesday evening. But depending on how a few East Coast swing states break, Americans may be able to get a good idea on how the race is shaking out — with the caveat that a handful of states could quickly swing the race the other way.
Below is a list of key swing states and when their races are likely to be called.
EARLY EVENING: (7 p.m. ET - 9 p.m. ET)
Swing states with polls closing in this span: Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas.
At this stage in the evening, America will either know whether they're in for a long night or know if Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden could be on his way to a landslide victory.
Florida has been processing mail-in ballots for days and is typically among the states that report results the quickest. With polls closing at 7 p.m. ET in the eastern part of the state and 8 p.m. ET in the panhandle, it will be an early forerunner for the 2020 race.
Recent polling shows Biden holds leads in many swing states throughout the country, but the race appears to be a tossup in Florida. Without the Sunshine State's 29 electoral college votes, President Donald Trump will face yet another roadblock on his already shaky path to victory.
On the other hand, if Trump can prevail in Florida and add a win in North Carolina — a state whose votes will also be tabulated quickly — will open up another avenue to 270 electoral votes. Trump narrowly won North Carolina in 2016 and is running competitively in the state again.
LATE NIGHT (9 p.m. to midnight)
Swing states with polls closing in this span: Wisconsin, Arizona, Nevada
As Tuesday evening ticks on and West Coast polls begin to close, results will likely be trickling in midwestern swing states like Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
Trump stunned pollsters in 2016 when he took Michigan and Wisconsin by less than 100,000 votes combined. The two states typically vote Democrat, and polls showed Hillary Clinton leading heading into Election Day.
Trump will likely need a similar overperformance in those states to serve a second term. Recent polls show him trailing behind Biden in Michigan and Wisconsin by about eight points.
While some jurisdictions in Michigan may report absentee ballots alongside day-of votes, some mail-in ballots will be tabulated on Wednesday morning. However, The New York Times projects that if Biden holds an early lead in Michigan, he's likely to keep it as more Democrat-leaning mail-in votes arrive.
EARLY MORNING (midnight to noon on Wednesday)
In the early morning hours of Nov. 4, West Coast polls will have closed, and Trump will be hoping to carry two reliably blood-red states — Arizona and Texas. Trump hopes both will pad his electoral vote count while more ballots trickle in from rust belt states.
However, both states appear to be in striking distance for Biden in 2020 — meaning flipping one could put him over the 270 mark before the sun rises on Tuesday.
LATER THIS WEEK
Should the race remain competitive into Wednesday morning, Americans need to brace themselves for a few days of uncertainty.
Many analysts expect Pennsylvania to be the all-important "tipping-point state" — the state with the slimmest margin of victory of any other in the union. But don't expect results from the Keystone State any time soon — the state won't begin processing mail-in ballots until Tuesday evening, meaning analysts may not be able to project a winner until late this week.
A second swing state, Nevada, will also likely be counting ballots for a couple of days. The state went to 100% mail-in voting this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and while most of the state's ballots will be counted by Wednesday, the state will continue to count votes until Nov. 10 — but only those ballots that are postmarked by Nov. 3.