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Both Candidates Might Fall Short Of 270 Electoral Votes On Election Night. But How Close Might They Get?

Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s Election Update for Saturday, October 31! According to the FiveThirtyEight forecast,1 Joe Biden has a 90 in 100 chance of becoming the 46th president of the United States, while President Trump still has a 10 in 100 chance of winning reelection. In the Senate, Democrats have a 78 in 100 chance of taking control, while the party is also a 98 in 100 favorite to keep the House.2

[Live Updates: We’re Tracking The Vote And Voting Problems]

But this year, in addition to the burning question of “Who will win?” people are almost as eager to know, “When will we know the results?” To help answer that, FiveThirtyEight published a comprehensive guide to following the returns on election night, including when the polls close in each state and what time we might get semi-final results. So let’s walk through election night hour by hour, using our forecast as a guide to get a better understanding of just how many electoral votes might be accounted for, including how many Trump and Biden can each expect to win. (Spoiler: Unless one of them has a really good night, it’s unlikely that either will hit 270 electoral votes on election night.)

What are the chances we’ll know the next president on election night?

7 p.m. Eastern

Georgia is the race to watch at 7 p.m.

FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast (as of 3:45 p.m. ET on Oct. 31) for states where the last polls close at 7 p.m. Eastern

chance of winning
Race Electoral Votes Biden Trump
Vermont 3 99.4% 0.6%
Virginia 13 99.0 1.0
Georgia 16 58.3 41.7
South Carolina 9 8.3 91.7
Indiana 11 5.0 95.0
Kentucky 8 1.4 98.6

Bolded rows indicate competitive races.

The earliest that TV networks, the Associated Press and other election adjudicators will be able to project the winner in any state is 7 p.m. Eastern, when the last polls close in six states. Of these, Indiana, Kentucky and South Carolina all have at least a 92 in 100 chance of going to Trump, so let’s assume those 28 electoral votes go in the Republican column (these states should report enough votes early that they can be quickly projected). But Vermont and Virginia are also at least 99 percent likely to go for Biden and should report results quickly, so he will probably quickly earn their combined 16 electoral votes, putting Trump at 28 and Biden at 16.

The one wild card in this first batch of closings is Georgia and who will win its 16 electoral votes. And because our forecast is expecting a very tight race there, it may take days before we have an answer to that question.

7:30 p.m. Eastern

North Carolina could be a bellwether at 7:30 p.m.

FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast (as of 3:45 p.m. ET on Oct. 31) for states where the last polls close at 7:30 p.m. Eastern

chance of winning
Race Electoral Votes Biden Trump
North Carolina 15 67.4% 32.6%
Ohio 18 45.5 54.5
West Virginia 5 0.9 99.1

Bolded rows indicate competitive races.

Trump will almost certainly win West Virginia and its five electoral votes, and that should be apparent early in the night. However, North Carolina and Ohio are more up in the air, according to our forecast. If Biden is having a really good night, it’s conceivable that we’ll know who won in both states on election night because both count most of their votes relatively quickly; if that happens, Biden would gain 33 electoral votes from them combined.

However, if these states are as close as our forecast thinks they’ll be, they could remain unprojected for days as we wait for the last few mail-in ballots to arrive (both states accept mail-in ballots that are received after Election Day as long as they are properly postmarked). On the other hand, if Trump is having a good night, these states could be projected for him, and he could gain a total of 38 electoral votes from states that stop voting at 7:30 p.m.

8 p.m. Eastern

A flurry of results at 8 p.m., including vital swing states

FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast (as of 3:45 p.m. ET on Oct. 31) for states where the last polls close at 8 p.m. Eastern

chance of winning
Race Electoral Votes Biden Trump
Washington, D.C. 3 100.0% 0.0%
Delaware 3 >99.9 <0.1
Maryland 10 >99.9 <0.1
Massachusetts 11 99.9 0.1
Rhode Island 4 99.9 0.1
Connecticut 7 99.9 0.1
Illinois 20 99.9 0.1
New Jersey 14 99.4 0.6
Maine 1st 1 97.4 2.6
Maine (statewide) 2 90.3 9.7
New Hampshire 4 88.7 11.3
Pennsylvania 20 85.8 14.2
Florida 29 65.3 34.7
Maine 2nd 1 55.6 44.4
Mississippi 6 8.8 91.3
Missouri 10 8.0 92.0
Tennessee 11 3.0 97.0
Alabama 9 1.7 98.3
Oklahoma 7 0.6 99.4

Bolded rows indicate competitive races. Maine splits its electoral votes, awarding two to the winner of the statewide race and one to the winner of each congressional district.

We might get a bonanza of results starting at 8 p.m. And several states where polls close at that time will probably be projected by ABC News and other media outlets pretty quickly: Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Tennessee all have at least a 91 in 100 chance of voting for Trump, so it’s probably safe to say he will be quickly awarded their 43 combined electoral votes. Likewise, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maine’s 1st Congressional District, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island will probably be projected for Biden, given that he has at least an 89 in 100 chance of winning all those places. That’s worth 45 more electoral votes for the Democrat.

Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., will also stop voting at 8 p.m. Eastern and are overwhelmingly likely to vote for Biden. However, they are expected to count their votes more slowly, so it’s less certain when we’ll have an idea of who won here. Given just how blue these states are, though, let’s assume that we will know enough at some point on election night to project them. That’ll (eventually) be another 34 electoral votes for Biden.

Where it gets a little murkier is the races where both the vote count will be slow and the outcome of the race is in doubt. The two races in this category are worth a combined 21 electoral votes, and one of them is a strong bet to decide the final outcome. First, there’s Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, where we are currently forecasting that neither candidate will surpass 50 percent of the vote. And because Maine uses ranked-choice voting,3 that means we could have an automatic runoff on our hands, where the second-place (or third-place, etc.) votes of those who voted for minor-party candidates come into play. This process would not happen until later in the week, though. Second, Pennsylvania could also be without final results until well after election night, as they’re not allowed to start processing mail ballots until Tuesday morning, and mail ballots undergo a verification process that means they take longer to count than votes cast in person. Getting a grasp on the vote count in Pennsylvania could be particularly tricky, too, as Trump may win the election-night returns, while Biden is expected to lead the mail vote, which likely won’t be reported right away. All of this means there is a good chance we won’t know who won Pennsylvania until Wednesday at the earliest.

There’s also Florida in the 8 p.m. hour. And while we’re not sure who will win here either, the state is different from Maine and Pennsylvania in that we shouldn’t have to wait long to find out. Given how fast Florida counts votes, it would not be a surprise if we get enough results to know who won there shortly after 8 p.m. Eastern. If Biden wins it (and he has a 65 in 100 chance of doing so, according to our forecast), he would add 29 electoral votes to his ledger, for a total of 108 he could win from states whose last polls close at 8 p.m. Eastern. If, on the other hand, Trump wins Florida, he could net as many as 72 electoral votes this hour.

By 8 p.m. Eastern, states worth exactly 270 electoral votes (the number needed to win) will have stopped voting. However, we still won’t be able to declare an overall winner at this point, as it’s virtually impossible for either Biden or Trump to run the table in these first few rounds. That said, whoever wins Florida — one of the likeliest tipping-point states, according to our forecast — will tell us a lot about which way the race is heading. Case in point: If Trump loses Florida, our forecast believes he has less than a 1 percent chance of recovering to win the overall election.

8:30 p.m. Eastern

Only one state stops voting at 8:30 p.m. Eastern: Arkansas. With its greater than 99 in 100 chance of going red, expect its six electoral votes to be projected for Republicans very quickly.

9 p.m. Eastern

Texas and Arizona are the big prizes at 9 p.m.

FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast (as of 3:45 p.m. ET on Oct. 31) for states where the last polls close at 9 p.m. Eastern

chance of winning
Race Electoral Votes Biden Trump
New York 29 >99.9% <0.1%
New Mexico 5 97.3 2.7
Colorado 9 96.8 3.2
Michigan 16 95.8 4.2
Minnesota 10 94.7 5.3
Wisconsin 10 94.0 6.0
Nebraska 2nd 1 77.9 22.1
Arizona 11 69.3 30.7
Texas 38 37.0 63.0
South Dakota 3 5.1 94.9
Nebraska 1st 1 4.1 95.9
Louisiana 8 3.1 96.9
Kansas 6 2.7 97.3
North Dakota 3 1.9 98.1
Nebraska (statewide) 2 0.6 99.4
Wyoming 3 0.2 99.8
Nebraska 3rd 1 <0.1 >99.9

Bolded rows indicate competitive races. Nebraska splits its electoral votes, awarding two to the winner of the statewide race and one to the winner of each congressional district.

Once again, there are several races where we should be able to declare a winner quickly because they’re simply not competitive. Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District, Nebraska’s 3rd Congressional District, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming will almost certainly add a combined 27 electoral votes to Trump’s total. And Colorado, Minnesota, New Mexico and New York should add 53 electoral votes to Biden’s total.

Michigan and Wisconsin are also likely to vote for Biden according to our forecast (96 in 100 and 94 in 100, respectively), but because of their swing-state status and slower vote-counting, they probably won’t be projected right away. Wisconsin is expected to take several hours to count all of its mail-in ballots, with final results from Milwaukee not expected to be known until between 4 and 7 a.m. Eastern on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the secretary of state of Michigan is warning not to expect actionable results until Friday. However, Biden stands to gain another 26 electoral votes once we have finalish results in these two states.

Then there are three races that will probably be too close to know who won on election night. Biden has a 78 in 100 chance of winning Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District, but that means Trump also has a 22 in 100 chance, so it may take several hours before a winner is declared. Texas is even closer: Trump has a 63 in 100 chance of victory, while Biden wins 37 out of 100 times, increasing the odds that late-arriving ballots on Wednesday will decide who actually gets the state’s electoral votes. Finally, Biden has only a small lead in Arizona, so the state may need to count every ballot before we know the winner there — which could take until Thursday or Friday.

Together, these three races are worth 50 electoral votes. So if Biden has a great night and wins them, he could gain 129 electoral votes from states whose polls close at 9 p.m. Eastern. If these states go for Trump, though, he could emerge with 77 more electoral votes.

10 p.m. Eastern

Tight races and slow counts in the 10 p.m. hour

FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast (as of 3:45 p.m. ET on Oct. 31) for states where the last polls close at 10 p.m. Eastern

chance of winning
Race Electoral Votes Biden Trump
Nevada 6 89.4% 10.6%
Iowa 6 45.0 55.0
Montana 3 15.1 85.0
Utah 6 4.1 95.9

Bolded rows indicate competitive races.

There may not be any winners declared quickly this hour. Perhaps the most likely of these four states to be resolved early is Utah; despite a very slow vote-counting process, the state has a 96 in 100 chance of voting for Trump, so it seems possible that we might know who won here based on early vote returns. That would be worth an additional six electoral votes for Trump.

Similarly, Nevada could take a while to count all of its votes, but Biden has a smaller lead there than Trump does in Utah. So Biden might be able to add its six electoral votes to his column on election night, but it’s perhaps more likely that we won’t know who won on election night.

Meanwhile, it’s unlikely Iowa will get called either way on election night; our forecast says its six electoral votes are practically a toss-up, which could mean we won’t get final results here for several days. (In Iowa, absentee ballots can arrive as late as Nov. 9 and still count, and a razor-close race like the one we’re expecting come down to every last vote.)

Finally, Montana should get us a result relatively quickly, but there’s some question about what that result will be: While Trump is definitely favored, with an 85 in 100 chance, Biden has a real shot to win its three electoral votes as well (15 in 100).

All told, in a best-case scenario for Biden, these states could award 15 electoral votes to Biden and just six to Trump. Likewise, the best possible outcome for Trump from these states on election night could be winning 15 electoral votes (he could eventually win Nevada as well to make it a clean sweep, but it’s unlikely that would happen on election night).

11 p.m. Eastern

11 p.m. states are all deep red or deep blue

FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast (as of 3:45 p.m. ET on Oct. 31) for states where the last polls close at 11 p.m. Eastern

chance of winning
Race Electoral Votes Biden Trump
California 55 99.8% 0.2%
Washington 12 99.2 0.8
Oregon 7 97.6 2.4
Idaho 4 0.5 99.5

We shouldn’t have to wait long for these states to be resolved. While California and Washington are both known for taking a long time to count their votes, they are also deep-blue states, so they’ll likely end up in Biden’s column almost immediately. Same with Oregon, a relatively fast-counting state where Biden has a 98 in 100 chance to win. In total, that means Biden is likely to pick up 74 electoral votes this hour. By contrast, Trump should pick up only four, from dark-red Idaho.

If Biden has had a great night so far, it’s possible that this would be when he clinches a majority of electoral votes. For example, if he wins all the quickly projected solid-blue states plus Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, Florida and Arizona, he would be at 277 electoral votes.

Midnight and 1 a.m. Eastern

Alaska and Hawaii won’t tell us much

FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast (as of 3:45 p.m. ET on Oct. 31) for states where the last polls close at midnight or 1 a.m. Eastern

chance of winning
Race Electoral Votes Biden Trump
Hawaii 4 99.2% 0.8%
Alaska 3 14.8 85.2

Bolded row indicates competitive race.

After 11 p.m. Eastern, there will only be two states left voting: Hawaii, where polls close at midnight Eastern, and Alaska, where the last polls close at 1 a.m. Eastern. Hawaii and its four electoral votes should quickly get added to Biden’s column, given that it counts its votes extremely fast and has a greater than 99 in 100 chance of going blue. However, we probably won’t know who won Alaska’s three electoral votes for at least a week, because the state doesn’t even begin to count absentee ballots until Nov. 10.

In total, if we stick to just the states where we are expected to get quick projections and where we are confident we know what those projections will be, Biden would have 192 electoral votes at this point and Trump would have 119. So it’s very possible that we will go to bed not knowing who has won the presidential election. Of course, it’s also possible that, if either Biden or Trump does better than we expect them to, they will win enough states on election night to be formally declared the winner.

Even if not, though, states like Florida where we think we’ll get results quickly but where both candidates have a shot will be strong indicators of who is on track to win. So even if we don’t have a winner on election night, that doesn’t mean we won’t have a pretty good idea.

What the deluge of final polls can tell us | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast


  1. As of 3:45 p.m. Eastern.

  2. Both congressional numbers are according to the Deluxe version of our forecast.

  3. In a ranked-choice voting system, voters rank the candidates in order of preference. If no candidate receives a majority of first-place votes, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated, and his or her supporters are redistributed among the remaining candidates based on whom they ranked second. This process repeats until someone wins a majority.

Nathaniel Rakich is a senior editor and senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.