Voters in all 50 states on Tuesday will cast their ballot for president—with most of those votes going to either Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump. Come evening, states across our great nation will close their polls and start reporting their results to the media.
Which means it'll soon all be over.
You can stop refreshing FiveThirtyEight every five minutes, stop arguing on Facebook with your third cousin about WikiLeaks, or answering urgent texts from your mother at 2am demanding to know if the latest poll spells disaster for Hillary. No more “crooked.” No more “sexual assault.” No more of those damn emails.
But who are we kidding? The last 15 months of this presidential election has revealed as much about America as it has about the two leading presidential candidates. Which is why you should tune in on Election Night and see this crazy ride through to the end.
Here's everything you need to know about watching the election returns.
What time should I tune in to watch the election results?
Polls start closing at 6pm ET in parts of Indiana and Kentucky—but you won't see any Electoral College votes decided this early. The remaining districts in those states close an hour later (7pm ET), as do a slew of key states including New Hampshire, Virginia, Georgia, and most of Florida. These are followed by North Carolina, Ohio, and West Virginia at 7:30pm ET. Come 8pm ET, a major chunk of polls will be closed. New York, the last big East Coast state to close its polls, starts to call it at 9pm ET.
With modern-day technology and the rapid pace of today's news cycle, who needs to wait for actual votes? Exit pollsters will begin to feed results to the major broadcast news networks around 5 pm ET, according to the Independent. We should see exit poll projections from Virginia and Florida shortly after 7pm ET. The busiest time to tune in will be at 8pm ET, when we'll see exit polls results arrive from Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Texas.
In fact, CNN will begin their election night coverage at 4pm ET. Most of the major news networks will wait until official results come in rather than call results from the exit polls, but this year some outlets are doing things a little differently.
How should I watch the election results?
Election night returns will be broadcast on all major U.S. cable and broadcast news networks. This includes ABC, CBS, Fox, C-SPAN, MSNBC, CNN, Univision, PBS, and CNBC.
YouTube will also livestream election night coverage in partnership with six different media outlets, including NBC News, PBS, MTV News, Bloomberg, Telemundo, and The Young Turks. You can also stream live coverage of election night results on any of the news network websites. CNN will allow viewers to watch its election night coverage for free—no cable subscription needed—through CNNgo.com or with the free CNN app for Apple or Android devices.
Facebook will also cover Election Night live in partnership with several media outlets, including CNN, ABC News, PBS NewsHour, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Daily Caller. Just go your favorite media outlet's Facebook page to watch.
Slate will use results from VoteCastr, a startup that will use pre-election polls along with precinct turnout to offer real-time projections. In other words, Slate's results will come in super early and look a little different from the Associated Press, the New York Times, and other mainstream media outlets. As Nate Cohn of the Times points out, there are several problems with VoteCastr's method of projecting election results in real-time that may alarm the unfamiliar:
"On Tuesday, readers will be exposed to live results, for the first time, with little understanding of the amount of uncertainty. There will be no “margin of error,” or other indicator of that uncertainty. The results will most likely vary throughout the day.
I’ll bet it sends someone, somewhere, rushing to the bathroom."
Stephen Colbert's election night special—it's on Showtime, not CBS, which will be consumed by election news—will also air at 8 pm ET.
Univision will air Destino 2016–Noche de Elecciones (Destiny 2016—Election Night) beginning at 7pm ET, from their headquarters in Miami. Univision anchors Jorge Ramos and María Elena Salinas will lead a team of journalists, pollsters, commentators, and analysts in wall-to-wall coverage of the night's events, with an emphasis on Hispanic voters.
MSNBC will feature prime-time election coverage with Rachel Maddow, Brian Williams, and Chris Matthews, beginning at 6pm. Coverage will livestream at msnbc.com.
ABC will stream election coverage on its website beginning at 7pm ET. Good Morning America co-anchor Michael Strahan and ABC News correspondent T.J. Holmes will start reporting poll results at that time.
PBS NewsHour managing editors Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff will co-anchor live coverage of election results beginning at 8pm ET.
The New York Times will lift their paywall through Nov.9 to allow readers to take advantage of its election coverage.
NPR will also provide all-night radio coverage of election night. Hosts Robert Siegel, Audie Cornish, Rachel Martin, and Ari Shapiro will co-host NPR's coverage, which begins at 8pm ET and will last until 2am ET. The program will feature up-to-the-minute results, speeches, and analysis from NPR's Politics team. Coverage from the West Coast—by way of NPR member station KQED—will last until 4am ET. NPR will then air a one-hour recap of election night results at 4am ET.
As the polls close, you can also catch a real-time forecast of Clinton and Trump's chances of winning the White House on FiveThirtyEight's website. Nate Silver, editor-in-chief of FiveThirtyEight, will also join ABC News on Tuesday night to give state-by-state analysis.
What time will we know the the results?
With the rise of early voting and the wealth of real-time projections and exit polling data, anything could happen this year. Both the 2008 and 2012 elections were called shortly after 11pm ET—once the last polls on the West Coast had hit their scheduled close.
Conservative pundit Erick Erickson guessed we'd know the results of the 2016 presidential election as soon as 9pm ET—especially if Trump loses Florida, which is a must-win state for the Republican candidate—even if news outlets don't call it until 11pm ET.Still, that may be a bit early. Election results have been called as late as 3am ET the next morning (1976, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter) or up to a month later by the Supreme Court (2000, Al Gore versus George W. Bush).
In any case, election results on Tuesday probably won't come in as early as they did in 1984, when CBS declared incumbent President Ronald Reagan the winner at 8 pm ET—when many Americans were still finishing supper. It was one of the biggest landslide victories in the history of presidential elections, with Reagan making off with 525 out of a total possible 538 electoral college votes.
For an entertaining look at how sleepy things were back then, check out the video below:Oh, how times have changed.