What to expect on the day of the 2020 US Presidential elections

Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 03 2020 03:13 PM | Updated as of Nov 04 2020 01:07 AM

US President Donald Trump (left) and challenger Joe Biden (right) held competing televised town halls. Reuters/File

MANILA — It could be a long election night in the United States as incumbent President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden race to reach the 270 electoral votes needed to win this year’s Presidential elections.

Election night will last depending on the time when polls close and which states will be able to return results, said Meena Bose, an executive dean at the Hofstra University Public Policy and Public Service Programs. 

Bose is expecting to see a decision—or the absence of it—by 11 p.m. US eastern time or 12 noon of November 4, Philippine time. 

“I think by about 11 o’ clock I would say on election night, we will know whether there is a decision or whether we need to wait to see the vote counts in states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan [and] if there are issues with vote counting in Florida,” Bose said in a press briefing organized by the US Department of State’s Foreign Press Centers.

The first two states that will be able to report results will be Indiana and Kentucky as polls close at 6 p.m. eastern time or 7 a.m. of Nov. 4 in Manila.

The first significant results involving so-called swing states or battleground states could come in at 8:30 a.m. Philippine time with polls in North Carolina and Ohio closing.

Florida, where vote counting started two weeks ago, could provide a projection early in the evening (or 9 a.m. Philippine time), as polls also close around that time in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

This will be followed an hour later by Arizona, part of Michigan, Minnesota, part of Texas and Wisconsin.

“If the results are not decisive at that point, the decision could be known days later,” Bose said. 

“If it is decisive, it is likely to be for Biden. I would say if it is unclear then it could be Thursday or Friday because at that point Pennsylvania would be key, Michigan will be key. There may be questions about balloting in states such as Arizona and North Carolina, possibly Florida,” she added. 

Early voting and mail-in ballots

A record number of early voting and absentee ballots have been cast with about 93 million votes or two-thirds of the 2016 total already cast 3 days before the election.

With rules varying from each state, there is also a question on how long mail-in votes could be processed and counted. There are 6 states, including the key battleground states of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, that permit vote processing only on Election Day. 

But Bose explained that processing only involves the opening of the mail envelope, taking out the sleeve that keeps the ballot, and getting the ballots ready for counting. 

A total of 17 states, including Arizona and Florida, permitted actual mail-in vote counting before election day; 16 states, before polls close on election day; and 17 states, plus Washington DC, require counting after polls close.

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Can candidates reject the results? Bose said it depends on how decisive the results would be.

Election night in 2000 ended in a cliffhanger when the dispute over the results in Florida went from the state court to the Supreme Court. George W. Bush won that election over Al Gore. 

“It really depends on whether there is a decisive decision where the popular vote and the electoral vote are clearly in agreement. If so, then it would become very difficult to reject the results,” Bose said.

“If, however, we have a situation where there are questions about vote counting in Florida, Pennsylvania, possibly Texas, then there could be grounds on either campaign to challenge results, then that’s when [they] get into the courts and also the deadline in the electoral college.”

Under the US system, it is actually the electors or group of officials that make up the electoral college that vote in presidential elections. The number of electors in each state depends on the number of lawmakers it has in the US Congress.

California has the most number of electoral votes with 55. With 538 electoral votes in total, a candidate must win a majority of at least 270 votes to win the presidency.

What if there is a tie or if there is no majority? 

The US House of Representatives will vote by state delegation for president and the Senate selects the vice president. It happened in 1801 when lawmakers broke the tie in the electoral college and elected Thomas Jefferson as president of the United States.