Five key states to watch on election night

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has multiple paths to 270 Electoral College votes, with polls finding President Trump struggling to hang on in some of the battleground states that accounted for his 2016 election victory.

Biden leads big in Wisconsin and Michigan, and the Democratic nominee has a clear but smaller lead in Pennsylvania, which will be at the center of the political universe between now and when votes are counted.

If Biden can rebuild the former “blue wall,” he’s likely to win the White House.

But Biden is also competitive in a handful of other states Trump must win to secure a second term, including Georgia, Arizona, Ohio, Florida, Texas, Iowa and North Carolina.

Not all of the states are expected to finish counting votes on Tuesday night, potentially leading to a few confusing days in which the vote count may appear to swing back and forth.

More than 95 million people have already voted and some states, such as Pennsylvania, will report the in-person vote count before moving through the absentee ballots they’ve already received. In North Carolina and Pennsylvania, mail ballots postmarked by Election Day will still be counted even if they are received a few days later.

Here is what you should watch for in five hotly contested swing states on election night.


Pennsylvania is the key to the election strategies for both Trump and Biden.

If Trump does not repeat his victories in Wisconsin and Michigan, he must win Pennsylvania and retain the other states he won in 2016.

Biden could lose Pennsylvania and still win the election, but it would mean winning in states such as Ohio, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina or even Texas.

If Biden loses Pennsylvania, the state of the former vice president’s hometown and where he has had a stable polling lead, it is likely he is losing in many of those other places as well.

Polls show the race has tightened. Biden leads by 4.8 points in the FiveThirtyEight average, down from 7.3 points a few weeks ago.

Trump and Biden are both swamping Pennsylvania with stops in the final days hoping to squeeze out every vote. Trump has been pulling massive crowds to his rallies across the state, unnerving Democrats worried about a polling mishap.

Election officials say the results likely won’t be known until Friday at the earliest, which is the last day that mail ballots postmarked by Nov. 3 can be received.

Hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots have already been mailed in, but election law in Pennsylvania prohibits those ballots from being processed until 7 a.m. on Election Day, so officials will begin digging out of the piles of mail on Tuesday morning.

The polls close at 8 p.m. EST, and some counties will be counting and reporting in-person ballots first. Several counties may not even begin counting the mail ballots until Wednesday.

It’s possible that Trump will build up an early lead in Pennsylvania due to the in-person votes being counted first.

Those watching should not assume a Trump win, but wait for the count of the earlier mailed-in ballots as well.


The polls show Florida is a toss-up, but some election analysts believe the state will once again break narrowly for Trump, particularly if Biden does not match 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s level of support among Latino voters.

Florida is an absolute must-win for Trump to have any hope of winning the election.

The Sunshine State has been decided by 1 point or less in the past two presidential elections. Biden leads by 1 or 2 points in the polling averages, but no one will be surprised if Trump pulls out a narrow victory here on Election Day.

Unlike states that had to change their rules and hurry to get up to speed on mail voting due to the coronavirus pandemic, Florida is highly experienced in counting mailed absentee ballots.

Election officials have been processing and counting mail ballots for weeks now, and the full results should be in on election night. The state does not count mail ballots received after Nov. 3.

The mailed and early in-person ballots will be reported first, likely pushing Biden out to an early lead. The results should be close to complete in the hours after polls close at 8 pm EST in the panhandle and 7pm EST elsewhere, although legal challenges and slow counts in some counties could drag this nail-biter out.


In a surprising development, some election analysts believe Biden is likelier to win Georgia than he is to win Florida.

A victory by Biden in the Peach State would likely slam the door shut on a second term for Trump.

Trump and Biden are effectively tied in the polling averages, so the state remains a toss-up.

Election officials have been processing the mail ballots for weeks by verifying signatures and scanning, but the actual counting will not begin until Election Day.

That could take some time, given the huge number of ballots coming in, but Georgia’s secretary of state says he expects all the races to be called by Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning.

The polls close at 7 p.m. EST.


The race is close in Arizona, which has gone for the GOP presidential nominee in every election except for one dating back to 1972.

At one point, it appeared that Biden might pull away based on his strength with voters in the Phoenix suburbs. But Trump is very much alive in Arizona, only trailing Biden by 1 point in the RealClearPolitics average. That’s down from Biden’s lead of 5.7 points in early September.

The FiveThirtyEight average gives Biden a slightly better chance, finding him ahead by 2.9 points, down from 4.4 points in early October.

Biden has led in essentially every recent major poll of Arizona except for three, which were conducted by Trafalgar Group, Susquehanna and Rasmussen Reports. Those three pollsters have routinely found better results for Trump than other pollsters have.

Arizona has been processing and counting early and absentee ballots for two weeks now.

The polls close at 9 p.m. EST on Nov. 3 and we should get the results from early voters and absentee ballots one hour after that, likely giving Biden an early lead. Results from those who will vote in person on Election Day, which should skew Republican, are also expected on Tuesday night.

Mailed ballots must have been received by Election Day to count, although it’s possible the state will need an extra day or two to count all the absentee ballots that are received at the last minute.

Either way, we should have a good idea about the vote count in Arizona by the end of the night.

A loss for Trump in Arizona would not automatically mean the end for him, but it would make things very, very difficult.


It is hard to see a path back to the White House for Trump without North Carolina, which he won by fewer than 4 points in 2016.

Polls show the Tar Heel State looks like a pure toss-up, with Biden ahead by less than 2 points in the FiveThirtyEight average and Trump with a half-point advantage in the RealClearPolitics average.

Election officials say they expect 80 percent of the total vote will have been cast early, either by mail or in person, and they’ve been tabulating those results for weeks now. The first reported results should be released shortly after the polls close at 7:30 pm EST.

Biden should run out to an early lead before the results of in-person votes are released.

However, mail ballots postmarked by Election Day have until Nov. 12 to arrive. If the race is as close as the polls indicate, it could be a week or more before the final result is determined. 

Tags Arizona Donald Trump Florida Georgia Hillary Clinton Joe Biden North Carolina Pennsylvania

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