He has been waging a months-long campaign against mail-in voting in November by tweeting and speaking critically about the practice, which has been encouraged by more states to keep voters safe amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In a July interview, the president similarly refused to commit to accepting the results. “I have to see. Look … I have to see,” he said on Fox News Sunday. “No, I’m not going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no, and I didn’t last time either.”
Now, a question once considered unthinkable is being asked: What if the US president does not accept election defeat? Is there a contingency plan in case the president and his supporters refuse to go quietly?
What time will we know the US election winner?
Election night may not deliver the definitive winner the public has come to expect. The unprecedented number of mail-in ballots this election, prompted by Covid-19, could cause significant delays. While some states start counting postal ballots before election day, some wait until the polls close.
Initial results in states that prioritise the counting of in-person votes may show Mr Trump ahead, only for Mr Biden to appear ahead later as the postal vote tallies come in.
If there is no clear winner on the night, counting could take days, or even weeks, although most officials in the vital ‘swing’ states have said they hope to have declared a result by the weekend after the election at the latest.
No matter the final result, President Trump will remain in the Oval Office after the election if he loses, he will officially become a ‘lame duck’ president, with 73 days of his term to serve out before handing over the keys to the White House.
On 20 January 2021, the new president will deliver their inaugural address. This has traditionally been held on the steps of the US Capitol building, but it remains unclear what form of national address would occur if the pandemic still poses a risk to the public health.
What time are exit polls?
After the polls close in the US, broadcasters will use a variety of data, including exit polls to try and predict the result.
Networks usually start releasing the data from exit polls before 6pm EST (11pm GMT).
Exit polls are polls taken from people immediately after they have exited their voting station. Not every voter is interviewed so the exit polls are not always accurate. They help to gauge the election result, as the actual result can take days or even weeks to become clear.
It is important to note that while media outlets will project state results for either candidate, results are not official until individual states certify them. States technically have until December 14, when the electoral college electors meet, to finalise the counts.
How does the electoral college work?
Each state is represented by a number of votes in the electoral college which roughly correlates with the size of the population. For example, Florida has 29 votes and California has 55. There are 538 in total, so 270 are needed to win.
In all but two states, the candidate who wins the public vote will win all the Electoral College votes for that state. These votes are cast by electors, there is one elector for every college vote, on December 14. Traditionally, being an elector is a ceremonial role, but they are not bound by law in all states to vote for the candidate which won in their state.
The minimum number of Electoral College votes a state can have is three, so smaller states tend to be over-represented in the Electoral College. Wyoming has one vote for every 193,000 people in the state, while California has one for every 718,000.
The structure of the Electoral College, combined with the political and demographic makeup of swing-states, means a few states carry disproportionately more weight in an election and sometimes overrule the popular vote. In the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but lost the presidential race as she failed to win over the critical swing states and consequently lost the Electoral College vote.
A list of these all-important Swing States are discussed below:
When do the swing states announce their results?
- 11 electoral seats.
- Although traditionally a Republican stronghold, Trump won the state by just 3.5% in 2016. Democrats believe the changing demographic in the state has given them a chance of turning it blue.
- Polls close 7.00 pm local time (2 am GMT). Officials plan to release initial results around 8 pm local time (3 am GMT).
- 29 electoral seats.
- While it’s still technically possible for Trump to win without Florida, he would have to hold onto every other state he won in 2016 to secure re-election – a tall order.
- Polls close 7.00 pm local time (12am GMT). Initial results are expected around 8pm local time (1am GMT).
- 16 electoral seats.
- Changing demographics and growing urban areas have seen Georgia become progressively less safe for Republicans in recent years.
- Polls close 7.00 pm local time (12 am GMT). Georgia does not begin counting mail-in ballots until after polls close, meaning the result may not be clear on the night.
- 16 electoral seats.
- The closest-run state of 2016, Donald Trump managed to flip the state Republican against Hillary Clinton.
- Most polls close 8.00 pm local time (1 am GMT). Some jurisdictions count mail-in ballots before election day, but not all, meaning state-wide results are not expected until a couple of days afterwards.
- 10 electoral seats.
- Minnesota went to Hillary Clinton in 2016, but it was a close-run contest.
- Polls close 8.00 pm local time (2 am GMT). Initial results are expected soon after that.
- 15 electoral seats.
- Considered by some a “must win” for President Trump. If he loses here, it could signal the Republican’s stronghold over the south is slipping.
- Polls close 7.30 pm local time (12.30 pm GMT). The state expects to report initial results as the polls close, due to the high number of early voters.
- 18 electoral seats.
- Donald Trump won Ohio by over eight points in 2016, but it has been a major battleground this year, in part because the president has lost support among suburban women in the state.
- Polls close 7.30 pm local time (12.30 pm GMT). Mail-in ballots are not counted until election day, but Ohio expects to release early results on the night.
- 20 electoral seats.
- Formerly one of the Democrats’ solid “Blue Wall” states, Pennsylvania was narrowly flipped by Donald Trump in 2016. Both sides have invested significant time and resources into winning the Key Stone state and the outcome here could determine the national election.
- Polls close 8.00 pm local time (1 am GMT). Mail-in ballots cannot be counted until election day: officials hope to have a result in the days following.
- 38 electoral seats.
- The second-biggest state for electoral college votes, changing demographics in Texan cities have made it competitive.
- Most polls close 7.00 pm local time (1 am GMT). Texas tends to announce its results fairly early in the evening.
- 10 electoral seats.
- In 2016 Donald Trump defied the pollsters to squeak a surprise victory in Wisconsin.
- Polls close 8.00 pm local time (2 am GMT). Officials have predicted an announcement on election night or soon after.
What other national races are on election day?
It is not just the presidential race which will be taking place on November 3. All 435 members of the US House of Representatives are up for re-election, as well as roughly a third of the 100-member US Senate.
Democrats are hoping to retain their control of the House as well as seizing several Republican Senate seats, and perhaps even becoming the majority party in the chamber.
Winning the Senate majority, which Republicans currently hold 53-47 would be a huge prize for Democrats. The Senate has the power to veto approve legislation and trade deals as well as to confirm senior government positions and judges.