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How to watch Election Night results like a pro

This is the ultimate guide to Election Night.


Andrew Couts


Published Nov 8, 2016   Updated Feb 28, 2020, 9:00 pm CST

This is it, America. 

In next few hours, we will likely know the 45th president of the United States. But in the meantime, a hellfire of information will rain down upon us from every angle, out of every nook and cranny, and in every different format. It’s too much for anyone to handle without a guide through the madness. 

Below, we’ll distill the scrambled mess of Election Night into delicious nuggets that anyone can digest, starting with the first moments of media blathering and all the way to victory. 


Republican nominee Donald Trump trails Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the polls, whom prediction markets predict will win the 270 electoral votes needed to secure the White House. Trump still has several paths to victory, particularly if he wins Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. 

Bottom line: If Trump loses Florida, he will likely lose the election. If he doesn’t, move to the edge of your seat.


Democrats need to gain five of the 24 open Republican seats to regain control of the Senate. They also need to hold the 10 open Democratic seats. FiveThirtyEight has the Democrats’ chances of taking the Senate as a 50-50 toss-up.


Democrats are not expected to regain the House, where 37 seats are open. Of those 14 are considered up for grabs. Republicans will be fighting to keep the turnover as low as possible. Expect Democrats to claim major victories if they win at least 14 more seats in the House.


Voter turnout is the big story of the election—and the major wildcard. Some 42 million Americans have already cast their ballots in early voting states. Clinton is banking on votes from minorities—particularly African-Americans and Latino voters—while Trump needs to turnout his largely white base.

A surge in Latino and Hispanic voters is the major narrative this election year, with early voting numbers among these communities on the rise in key states, including a 152 percent increase in Florida, where 6.4 million people total have already voted—more than the entire turnout of the 2000 election.

4:00pm ET

CNN begins its Election Night coverage. Feel free to ignore at least the first hour of this—exit polls won’t start to arrive until at least an hour later—and polls don’t close in any state until 7pm ET. 

7pm ET

New Hampshire (4 electoral votes): A late-entry battleground state, New Hampshire was the first state to propel Trump to victory in the Republican primary and could provide a key four electoral votes to the victor. Clinton led in the last two polls out of the state—one by 11 points, another by a single point—but this one is a genuine toss-up. Expect pundits to start losing their minds as soon as exit polls shape the race in New Hampshire, no matter which way it swings.

  • Senate: Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte leads Democratic challenger Maggie Hassan, New Hampshire’s governor, by a slim 1.5-point margin on average. The polls are all over the place, but most have Ayotte ahead. 

Virginia (13): You’ll likely see results out of Virginia before any other state. Long considered a 2016 battleground state, Virginia will be seen as a bellwether of what’s to come. Clinton has maintained a steady five-point lead in Virginia and remains the odds-on favorite. The exit polls from Virginia will shape Election Night coverage—if not foreshadow the outcome itself. 

  • House: Watch for the race between Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock against Democratic challenger LuAnn Bennett for Virginia’s 10th district remains hotly contested. Polls are scant. Watch for the presidential victor here to help propel one of these two candidates onto Capitol Hill in 2017.

Georgia (16): A battleground state that Republican nominee Mitt Romney won by around 300,000 votes in 2012, Georgia puts Trump ahead by an average of about 4.8 points. It’s still a close race, but if Clinton comes out ahead here, you can assume talk of a blowout will follow.

Indiana (11): Home of Gov. Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, Indiana is likely a lock for the Republican nominee. Keep an eye on Vigo County, which has voted for the winning candidate every year since 1957. It’s only been wrong twice in the past 100 years.

  • Senate: U.S. Rep. Todd Young is effectively tied with Democratic challenger Evan Bayh, a former U.S. senator for the state. This one’s a genuine toss-up. Keep an eye on this one going to the Democrats.
  • House: Democrat Shelli Yoder trails Republican Trey Hollingsworth by just two points—but the polls here are few and far between, so anything could happen.

Vermont (3): Likely an easy win for Clinton.

  • Senate: Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy is expected to retain his seat against a challenge from Republican Scott Milne.

South Carolina (9): Trump is widely expected to win here easily.

Kentucky (8): Another Trump victory state, by all counts.

  • Senate: Sen. Rand Paul will almost certainly win re-election against Democratic challenger Jim Gray.

7:30pm ET

This is where things start to get really interesting.

Ohio (18): Ohio remains in the toss-up column for Clinton and Trump, but the Republican nominee holds a slim 3.5-point lead. No Republican has won the presidency without winning Ohio. If Clinton manages to score a victory in Ohio, Trump and his supporters may be in for a long, sad night. 

  • Senate: Sen. Rob Portman (R) is widely expected to win re-election against Democratic challenger and former Gov. Ted Strickland, but the race is still tight.

North Carolina (15): Another hotly sought-after battleground state, North Carolina is firmly in the toss-up category, with FiveThirtyEight giving it to Clinton despite a one-point lead by Trump. Like in Ohio, North Carolina’s outcome could heavily determine the race. Remember: Clinton can lose Ohio and North Carolina and still break through the 270 electoral vote threshold needed to win. Trump needs every state he can get–and a win in N.C. would do a lot for his chances at the White House.

  • Senate: Incumbent Sen. Richard Burr—one of the primary opponents of strong encryption in Congress—remains just two points ahead of Democratic challenger Deborah Ross, who has performed better than expected. This is a key race to watch.

West Virginia (5): A solid red state, this will likely be an easy Trump win.

8:00pm ET

Pennsylvania (20): Now would be a good time to start biting your nails. Pennsylvania is expected to swing toward Clinton, but she has a razor-thin 1.9-point lead over Trump. Watch for the results out of Philadelphia and its surrounding suburbs, particularly Bucks County and Chester County—high numbers for Clinton here protect her against the more Republican-leaning counties to the West. If Trump wins Pennsylvania (as well as Ohio and North Carolina), the race is suddenly much tighter.

  • Senate: Sen. Pat Toomey trails Democratic challenger Katie McGinty by two points. It’s a toss-up and could be a big win for the Democrats if McGinty is victorious.
  • House: There are two House seats up for grabs in Pennsylvania, but only the 8th district is competitive. GOP nominee Brian Fitzpatrick is a moderate favorite over Democratic nominee and state Rep. Steve Santarsiero.

Florida (29): Trump must win Florida—especially if he loses any of the battleground states above. The polls have Trump and Clinton in a virtual tie, with the Republican nominee up just 0.2 points. Some 6.4 million people have already voted in the Sunshine State, and many are looking to the state’s Hispanic population to flip this one to Clinton.

  • Senate: All eyes are on Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican presidential primary candidate, who leads his challengers by 3.7 points—too slim a margin to call.
  • House: Florida has five open House seats. Three are toss-ups, while the other two are divided between Republicans and Democrats. 

New Hampshire (4): Despite only holding four electoral votes, New Hampshire has become a key toss-up state because the race could be so close—as in, if New Hampshire goes to Trump, we could end in an Electoral College tie, or one or the other candidate could win by just three or four electoral votes. New Hampshire currently leans Clinton, but the polls are all over the place. FiveThirtyEight gives Clinton a 69.8 percent chance of winning here. (In New Hampshire, polls close at 7, 7:30pm and 8pm ET.)

  • House: New Hampshire’s 1st district is currently held by Republican Rep. Frank Guinta, but Democratic rival Carol Shea-Porter is leading by 3.5 points. Watch for this one to flip to the Dems.

Delaware (3): Solid Clinton territory. 

Illinois (20): Also a likely Clinton win. 

  • Senate: Democrats are banking on Democrat Tammy Duckworth beating incumbent Republican Sen. Mark Kirk, who trails Duckworth by more than 13 points.
  • House: Illinois’ 10th district is the only toss-up seat in the state, which had two open seats this election year. Look for Democrat Brad Schneider to take the seat from incumbent Republican Rep. Bob Dold.

Maine (4): Maine is a weird one. Two of the state’s electoral votes go to the overall popular vote winner, and Clinton is on track to take those. The other two are divided between each of its two congressional districts. Trump is the favorite for one of those, so expect Clinton to come out with three electoral votes to one of Trump’s. If the election is close, these could make all the difference.

  • Ballot: One of four states voting to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

Missouri (10): A Trump victory here is all but a done deal.

  • Senate: Republican incumbent Sen. Roy Blunt leads Democrat Jason Kander by 1.3 points. Watch for this one to flip to the Democrats.

New Jersey (14): An easy Clinton win; she leads by double digits.

  • House: A fierce race for New Jersey’s 5th district between Republican Rep. Scott Garrett and Democratic rival Josh Gottheimer is currently a toss-up. Dems are looking to pick up a seat here.

Washington, D.C. (3): Clinton leads in the nation’s capital and will likely win here.

Massachusetts (11): An easy win for the former secretary of state, Clinton leads by nearly 30 points over Trump.

  • Ballot: Legal recreational marijuana is on the ballot here.

Alabama (9): Easy Trump win.

Connecticut (7): Clinton is expected to win here.

Maryland (10): Another easy Clinton state.

Mississippi (6): This is Trump territory.

Oklahoma (7): Trump is expected to win here easily.

Rhode Island (4): A Clinton-win state.

Tennessee (11): Trumpland.

8:30pm ET 

Arkansas (6): Trump is widely expected to win in Arkansas, where he leads by around 20 points.

  • Ballot: Medical marijuana legalization

9:00pm ET

Another big hour, 9pm is when some of the key states close their polls.

Colorado (9): Colorado leans Clinton, but she’s only up 2.9 points. This is one of those key states in Clinton’s victory map. Colorado encourages everyone to vote by mail, and the results may come in slowly here. Pay attention to Latino turnout to help determine the outcome.

  • House: The race between incumbent Republican Rep. Mike Coffman and Democratic challenger Morgan Carroll remains in the toss-up column. Look for high Latino turnout in Colorado’s 6th district for clues.

Arizona (11): Arizona leans Trump, who has a four-point lead, but its Latino population could make the difference and push Clinton into the lead, depending on overall turnout.

  • House: Arizona’s 1st district is up for grabs. Expect Democrats to be looking for a big win here, particularly if Latino turnout is up.
  • Ballot: Legal marijuana is on the ballot, as is an increase to the minimum wage.

Michigan (16): A late-entry toss-up, Michigan leans Clinton, who has a 3.4-point lead. But there are rumblings that Trump could swipe this from Clinton, and many poll watchers are going to be looking for that to happen here. This is another one of those nail-biters if the East Coast states are divided between the candidates.

  • House: Michigan has four open House seats, but only its 1st district is a toss-up. Currently held by the GOP, and you can expect it to stay that way.

Minnesota (10): Clinton is expected to win in this blue state, where she leads by 10 points.

Nebraska (5): Like Maine, Nebraska splits its electoral votes, with two going to the winner of the popular vote and the other three going to the winner of each congressional district. Trump is expected to win at least four of the five electoral votes here, and he’ll likely take all five.

  • House: Nebraska only has one House seat open, in the 2nd district. It’s held by a Democrat and will likely stay in the Dems’ camp.

New Mexico (5): A toss-up, New Mexico leans Clinton and many prediction models expect her to take the state. 

New York (29): A Democratic stronghold thanks to New York City and its suburbs, Clinton is the heavy favorite in the Empire State.

  • House: New York’s 19th has a hotly contested race between Republican John Faso and Democrat Zephyr Teachout, one of the most progressive candidates running for Congress. Both Faso and Teachout have led in recent polls. Republican Claudia Tenney and Democrat Kim Myers are fighting for the 22nd district, while incumbent Republican Rep. John Katko is battling a tight race with Democratic nominee Colleen Deacon in New York’s 24th. Katko is the favorite here.

North Dakota (3): Solid Trump territory.

    • Ballot: Medical marijuana could be legalize here.

    South Dakota (3): Another highly likely Trump victory state.

    • Ballot: The state is voting to lower—yes, lower—the minimum wage for workers under 18.

    Texas (38): Texas heavily leans Trump, but it’s tighter here than in previous election years for the Republican nominee. Watch for high Latino turnout.

    • House: Democratic nominee and former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego hopes high Latino turnout in the 23rd district, which runs along the state’s southwest U.S.–Mexico border, will help him defeat Republican Rep. Will Hurd.

    Wisconsin (10): Like Michigan, Wisconsin leans Clinton but is one of the key states to watch. But Wisconsin is not considered a toss-up, with Clinton leading by 6.5 points.

    • Senate: Incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson is in a tight race with Democrat Russ Feingold, who has a 2.7-point edge. This is one of the seats Democrats hope to flip.

    Kansas (6): Trump will likely win here.

    Louisiana (8): Another Trump-friendly state.

    Wyoming (3): Also Trump.

    10:00pm ET

    Iowa (6): A toss-up, Iowa leans Trump, who holds a three-point lead.

    • House: Iowa’s 1st district is a toss-up, but leans Republican.

    Montana (3): An easy Trump win.

    • Ballot: Medical marijuana could be legalized here.

    Nevada (6): A major swing state, Nevada is a genuine toss-up as far as the polls are concerned. But that’s not the whole story: Early voting with strong Hispanic turnout has some experts already calling it for Clinton. A win for the Democratic nominee here could alleviate some pressure if other states swing Trump.

    • Senate: It’s currently a toss-up between Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto and Republican Joe Heck. Democrats need this seat, so keep an eye on this one.
    • House: Nevada’s 3rd district in the southeast corner of the state is currently a toss-up and could swing to the Democrats; its 4th district is leaning Democrat.
    • Ballot: There are a slew of ballot measures in Nevada this year, including on legalized marijuana, background checks for firearm purchases, healthcare, energy, and more.

    Utah (6): Trump is the heavy favorite here, but independent Evan McMullin (a Mormon and former CIA agent) has led in some earlier polls.

    11:00pm ET

    This is when the great blue wave begins.

    California (55): Clinton is virtually guaranteed to win California, where she leads by more than 22 points.

    • House: There are eight House seats up for grabs in California, but only two (25th, 49th) are toss-ups, and Democrats are expected to hold most of the open seats.
    • Ballot: Lots going on here: Legalized marijuana, a ban on plastic shopping bags, and a law requiring condoms for porn actors.

    Oregon (7): Solid blue Clinton state.

    Washington (12): Another Clinton stronghold.

    • Ballot: Washington has nine ballot measures this year, including ones related to healthcare, increased minimum wage, and the nation’s first carbon tax.

    Hawaii (4): Surf’s up for Clinton here.

    Idaho (4): Solid Trump territory.

    1:00am ET

    Alaska (3): Trump is the heavy favorite. Alaska is the last state to close its polls, this could matter if the race is particularly close. 

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    *First Published: Nov 8, 2016, 4:50 pm CST