How to Watch Tonight

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Good morning. It’s Election Day, and we have advice about how to watch the results come in.

After a presidential campaign like no other, Election Day is finally here.

If you’re not among the roughly 100 million Americans who have already voted, the good news is that lines this year may be shorter than usual because of all of the early voting. Here’s advice, from, on the logistics of voting today.

The first part of today’s newsletter consists of a viewer’s guide to watching the returns tonight. Above all, I recommend that you be skeptical about any sweeping claims that you hear early tonight — from President Trump or on television and social media. The surge of early voting and mail-in ballots this year means that no candidates, political strategists or journalists have ever experienced an election like today’s. Figuring out the meaning of the early vote totals will be difficult, and I expect some commentators will make mistakes.

The Times will err on the side of being careful. As Dean Baquet, our executive editor, told me yesterday: “We will be cautious. There is no value in getting out front in calling any election, particularly one conducted during a pandemic. And we certainly won’t be guided by declarations from any of the candidates. We will be guided by returns.”

Of course, we recognize that many Americans won’t be satisfied waiting until tomorrow morning to hear the results. People are too invested in the outcome. So here are some key indicators to watch for tonight. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking any one of them holds a definitive answer.

Late afternoon and early evening. (All times Eastern.) Expect some people on social media to claim that they have insight into the results by late afternoon — perhaps because they have seen exit polls, perhaps because of lines at polling places. You should ignore this commentary.

Voter lines have little use as a predictive tool, especially this year. Exit polls are also problematic. Even in normal years, exit polls don’t have a clearly better track record than the final pre-election polls.

If you need an early political fix this evening, we recommend the first ever live broadcast of “The Daily,” from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. It will include interviews with voters and Times correspondents across the country.

The earliest meaningful results. They will arrive shortly after 7 p.m., after polls close in much of Florida and Georgia. Thirty minutes later, North Carolina’s polls also close.

Those three states are worth watching for two reasons: First, if Joe Biden wins any of the three, he becomes an overwhelming favorite to win the presidency. Second, the three seem likely to count votes in a more easily decipherable way than almost any other state.

They will announce not only where ballots were coming from but also how those ballots were cast. That distinction is crucial, because the mail-in vote will lean Democratic in most states while the in-person vote will lean Republican. But nobody knows exactly how big the skew will be — so reported vote counts that don’t distinguish between in-person and mail-in ballots will be extremely difficult to analyze.

Because Florida, Georgia and North Carolina will all make the distinction, they are the only three states for which The Times is creating versions of its election-night needle this year. The needles will show the percentage chance of a Trump or Biden victory in each state, as it changes tonight, based on counted ballots.

There will be no national needle this year. “The limits of available data just make too risky to do responsibly,” The Times’s Nate Cohn tweeted.

The bottom line: If Biden seems on track to lose Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, he is no longer a big favorite to win. That would suggest the polls had underestimated Trump’s support. In FiveThirtyEight’s simulations, Biden has about a 50 percent chance of victory if he loses all three Southeastern swing states. He would then probably need to win at least Pennsylvania or Arizona.

The Senate. North Carolina will be important for a second reason: It is home to one of the Senate races most likely to determine Senate control. If the Democrat, Cal Cunningham, defeats the Republican incumbent, Thom Tillis, it will mean Democrats are on track to hold at least 50 Senate seats in January.

A second big Senate race is in Maine, where polls close at 8 p.m. Maine’s ranked-choice voting system means that official results may not be tallied for several days. But if the Democratic challenger, Sara Gideon, is winning more than 47 percent of the first-round vote, she will be in good shape to beat Susan Collins, the Republican incumbent, Dan Shea of Colby College told us.

In Arizona and Colorado, where polls close at 9 p.m., the Democratic challengers are favored. Winning these four seats — and the vice presidency, which breaks Senate ties — will probably be enough to give Democrats control of the Senate. They also have a decent shot to win in South Carolina (where polls close at 7 p.m.), Iowa (10 p.m.), Montana (10 p.m.) and Georgia, where one or both races may go to January runoffs.

If the early stage doesn’t go well for Biden, the country’s attention will then turn to two states above all: Pennsylvania (where polls close at 8 p.m.) and Arizona. Pennsylvania will likely take days to count mail ballots, meaning there might not be a result until later this week.

But Biden has a narrow path without Pennsylvania. He would need to win Michigan and Wisconsin (where he is favored), Arizona (where he holds a narrow lead in polls) and one of the two congressional districts that award electoral votes separately (in Maine and Nebraska, and Biden leads in both).

One wild card: Texas. With Texas, Biden wouldn’t need to win anything other than the states Hillary Clinton won in 2016 — not Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin or Arizona.

Most analysts believe Biden won’t win Texas if he isn’t also winning at least one state in the Southeast. But early turnout has been enormous in Texas this year — and elections are inherently uncertain. That’s why so many Americans are feeling anxious this morning.

For a more detailed guide to tonight, see Nate Cohn’s hour-by-hour preview.


The 2020 Campaign

A federal judge in Texas ruled that 127,000 votes that were already cast at drive-through voting sites in the Houston area would be counted after Republicans tried to disqualify them. Only one drive-through voting site in Houston will be open today.

The Trump campaign has dispatched lawyers for ballot challenges across the U.S. Civil rights groups and Democrats are mobilizing their own lawyers to fight back.

Be prepared for misinformation. Rumors, misleading videos and mislabeled photographs are circulating. They’re not true.

Experts had feared a tide of rejected mail ballots. So far, the rate of rejections appears to be low.

Businesses are boarding up some storefronts and governors are preparing to call on National Guard troops in case unrest follows the election.

If you haven’t taken our quiz on which first names support which presidential candidate, you can do so here. The names that have stumped most readers? Jennifer and Karen.


The fall outbreak of the virus continues to worsen in the U.S. The number of new cases over the past week has hit a new high, with a daily average of more than 85,000.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus coordinator, suggested in a memo that the pandemic was entering a “deadly phase.”

If symptomatic, pregnant women infected with the virus are more likely to require intensive care than otherwise similar women who are not pregnant, a C.D.C. study found.

Washington, D.C., scrapped a plan to bring some elementary students back to the classroom, after the city and the teachers’ union failed to agree on safety protocols, The Washington Post reports.

Nine months into the pandemic there is still no independent investigation into the origins of the virus, in part because the World Health Organization has allowed China to impede its research.

other big stories

A gunman opened fire in Vienna, killing at least four people and injuring more than a dozen. The attack appeared to be terrorism, Austrian officials said.

Three gunmen attacked Kabul University, Afghanistan’s largest university, taking hostages and killing at least 19 people.

Hurricane Eta is on its way to Nicaragua’s coast with winds of up to 150 miles per hour and heavy rainfall.

A train careened off elevated tracks in the Netherlands, but was saved from plunging to the ground by a 32-foot-tall sculpture of a whale’s tail.

A Morning read: On Nov. 2, 2000, three astronauts stepped aboard the International Space Station, and humans have lived there ever since. Here’s a look at life in orbit.

Lives Lived: Herb Adderley played for five championship teams with the Green Bay Packers and helped take the Dallas Cowboys to their first Super Bowl victory. He has died at 81.

The Times can help you navigate the election — to separate fact from fiction, make sense of the polls and be sure your ballot counts. To support our efforts, please consider subscribing today.


An updated classic

It’s time to make this luxurious version of Hamburger Helper. A perfect combination of macaroni and cheese and a good Bolognese, it makes for a delicious one pot dinner.


Visit the drastic cliffs and clear waters of Asturias, a region in Spain nicknamed Natural Paradise.

The late-night hosts expressed concern over safety measures ahead of the election.


The pangram from yesterday’s Spelling Bee was continuum. Today’s puzzle is above — or you can play online if you have a Games subscription.

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Election Day enclosure (five letters).

Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David

P.S. The word “strawberryness” — from an article about pricey scratch-and-sniff T-shirts — appeared for the first time in The Times yesterday, as noted by the Twitter bot @NYT_first_said.

You can see today’s print front page here.

Today’s episode of “The Daily” is a live Election Day broadcast. On the latest “Sway,” Kara Swisher interviews the Trump lip-syncing comedian Sarah Cooper.

Claire Moses, Amelia Nierenberg, Ian Prasad Philbrick and Sanam Yar contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at [email protected].

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