When do the polls open and close?
It varies from state to state. The earliest they open is 6 am, and the latest the close is 9 pm local time on November 3. India is between 10½ and 13½ hours ahead, depending on where in the US you’re looking. However, early voting has been open since mid-September — and by Monday night India time, over 96 million Americans had already cast their votes, either in person or by returned mail ballots, according to the US Elections Project.
When will the votes be counted?
Unlike India’s Election Commission, there is no federal body in the US that runs the election or tallies the results. Each state runs the election according to its own rules. Although most states allow electronic methods, paper ballots are the norm across the country. Ahead of counting comes a stage called processing, which involves checking signatures, verifying documentation, and perhaps even scanning the ballots. Counting votes is a separate, and later, process.
Each state has its own date for starting in-person or mail-in voting, deadline for receiving the mail-in ballots, processing the ballots, and tabulating votes. To take two examples: In Arizona, mailing of ballots started on October 7, they will be accepted until Election Day, and counting has been on since October 20; in Ohio, processing started on October 6, mail-in ballots can be received up to November 13 but they must be postmarked by November 2, and counting will start on November 3.
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How and when will we know the winner?
The count is not officially finalised for weeks — in 2016, it took until December. What happens on Election Night is that major TV networks and the Associated Press “call” the election in favour of one of the candidates — a projection based on exit polls, interviews with voters, and trends — a legitimate exercise, and a necessity in the US system. The projections are not usually contested, and the candidate projected to have lost concedes the election.
This year, given the pandemic and the huge volumes of mail-in ballots, there is widespread apprehension that a clear winner will not emerge on November 3 or even the day after — unless any one candidate wins in a landslide.
What are the polls saying so far?
Biden has been leading in both national and state polls, and is widely favoured to win. But no poll has predicted that Trump will definitely lose. Nate Silver, perhaps the most influential of forecasters, reminded everyone on Sunday that in his projection, the President has a 10% chance of retaining the White House, not zero. He could have a 2016 moment again in the Electoral College. Biden’s lead in Pennsylvania, which according to some forecasts is the tipping-point state, is 5 points — “solid but not spectacular”, according to Silver. Pennsylvania and Florida will together give Trump 49 Electoral College votes, a tally Biden can overtake only if he wins all of the remaining 4 toss-ups — Michigan, North Carolina, Arizona, Wisconsin — and does well in other states, too.
Also, polling errors do happen — all forecasters were wrong in 2016. And no one is ruling out the possibility that Trump may seek some sort of “illegitimate” path to victory, although that scenario has many mind-boggling unknowns. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram
So, is fraud expected?
Trump has for long, and repeatedly, accused the Democratic Party of fraud. But he has never presented any evidence, and nearly all commentators agree election fraud is extremely rare in the US. Democrats and other Trump critics are convinced that he is raising the bogey of fraud to prepare the ground to contest the election result if he appears to be losing; indeed, Trump has refused to commit that he would accept the result if he does not win.
On the Democratic side, fears have been expressed of voter intimidation and attempts at making it difficult for some groups to vote. These include attempts at reducing the efficiency of the US Postal Service by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump acolyte; making ballot drop boxes scarce in some states, etc.
Aren’t some elections for seats in Congress happening as well?
Yes. Thirty-five seats are up for re-election in the Senate, where the Republicans have a 53-47 majority. The Democrats think they have a good chance of taking control of the chamber, but most media organisations have been describing the situation as a toss-up. Elections to the House of Representatives will be held in all 50 states, and the Democrats are widely expected to hold on to their majority. The ideal situation for the Democrats will, of course, be to win both Congress and the Presidency, but even if Trump gets another four years, a double majority for the Democrats in both the House and Senate will allow them to put significant checks on the President’s powers.
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