Your Guide For Watching Election Returns

Ken AshfordElection 2016Leave a Comment

I actually hate election night.  You would think, for a political junkie like me, that watching the election returns would be the Super Bowl and the Tonys all wrapped together. But it’s not.  The night is long, even when it’s not.  And you have to listen to pundits and (worse) campaign surrogates being used as filler until something actually happens.  Bingo cards help.  Drinking games help.  Or just watching Howard Fineman pretend that Chris Matthews didn’t just accidentally project spittle on him — that’s sometimes amusing.  But generally, it is a slow night.

But…. we have to watch because it is history and all that.  So here’s what I’ve done.  If you’re anxious to watch and don’t want to stay up until the concession speech, I have prepared a handy dandy guide to reflect when *I* think the presidential race is *effectively* over.  If I’m right or even close (a huge assumption), then you can turn off the TV and go to bed, or watch something else.

So let’s begin.

First, we need to know when the polls close in each state.  Fortunately, Daily Kos did the work for me.


In prognosticating the outcome, I will start from the assumption — based on the latest polling averages — that Hillary will win, i.e., she will meet the requisite 270 electoral votes.  What we need to look for, particularly early in the evening, are signs that this is NOT true and that she is NOT doing as well as the polls have predicted.

Now we’ll begin —

6:00 pm EST — Polls close in (most of) INDIANA and KENTUCKY

Bad-news-for-Hillary indicators:  None.  She’s not going to win these states.

Good-news-for-Hillary indicators:  None.

Notes: Really, it’s 6:00.  You shouldn’t even be watching now.  You’ll burn out.


Bad-news-for-Hillary indicators:  If they don’t announce Vermont for Hillary at or close to the top of the hour (say, by 7:15), that’s very bad.  It means something is seriously wrong with the poll models and/or Russia has hacked the election returns something serious.

Good-news-for-Hillary indicators:  If they announce Virginia before 7:30 for Hillary, it’s very good news. Probably means a landslide. Turn off the TV – she’s won.  (Don’t get your hopes up though.  It won’t happen.)

Notes: Florida is still the key.  If Trump cannot take Florida, he really has no path to victory (a phrase I’m really sick of).  Well, he DOES have a path, but it’s highly highly highly unlikely.  Now, I expect that the networks will not make their official Florida projections at 7:00, even though most of Florida’s polls will have closed.  They will wait until 8:00 when ALL of Florida’s precincts have closed.  However, to the extent that the news outlets talk about Florida and “early unofficial returns”, pay attention.  If it looks good for Trump, then all of Florida will probably go to Trump (since the counties that close at 8:00 are pro-Trump counties).  But if they give hints of heavy pro-Hillary votes — well, it still might mean a Trump win, but it’s less in-the-bag.

My bet is that Florida will be very close.  I don’t think we will know until after 11:00 at the earliest, and hopefully by then, the race will be decided.

7:30 pm EST — Polls closed in OHIO, WEST VIRGINIA, and NORTH CAROLINA

Bad-news-for-Hillary indicators:  If Ohio comes in quick for Trump (say, before 8:00), that’s a bad sign for HRC.  Ohio, like Florida, should be close and not come in until later.

Good-news-for-Hillary indicators:  Watch for North Carolina.  It’s a tie going into election day, but there has been so much early voting that I expect the state results to come in before 8:30 pm.  If it is Hillary, and we still haven’t heard from Florida or Ohio or Pennsylvania, you can ALMOST turn off the TV confident of an HRC victory.  If other “swing states” come in Hillary;s favor (especially Pennsylvania), it’s over for Trump.

In fact, here’s what to look for: North Carolina-Pennsylvania-Virginia.  If Hillary gets all three of those, it’s over (barring some bizarre upset somewhere else).  Trump can take Florida AND Ohio, and he still loses as long as Hillary has North Carolina-Pennsylvania-Virginia.

Notes:  Of course, the converse is true as well.  If North Carolina goes Trump, you can’t pop the HRC champagne yet.  Hillary had to win Florida or Ohio or a series of states further west.

8:00 pm EST — Polls completely closed in MAINE, NH, RI, CT, NJ, DE, MD, DC, PA, MI, IL, MO, TN, AL, MS, TX, OK, KS, and some of both of the DAKOTAS

Bad-news-for-Hillary indicators:  NH still a tossup by 9:00 pm.; PA still a tossup by 10:00pm

Good-news-for-Hillary indicators:  Networks call it for NH at or near 8:00 pm.  Same with Pennsylvania — the earlier it gets called for Hillary, the better for her overall.  Of course, as I said before, if she’s already taken North Carolina and Virginia, then a call from Pennsylvania effectively clinches it  (not mathematically, but in terms of probability)

Notes:  Lot of safe states come in starting at 8:00 pm for both candidates.  Hillary gets some New England and mid-Atlantic states.  Trump, of course, gets the deep South. Don’t freak at the slew of Trump wins in the South –it’s inevitable. In addition to keeping your eye on Florida (toss-up), Ohio (should go Trump), Virginia (should go Hillary) and NC (toss-up), watch the industrial midwest states.  Those with large urban centers (Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan) should go to Hillary without dragging it out too long — say within 1.5 hours of closing (i.e., before 9:30).

8:30 pm EST — Polls closed in ARKANSAS

Notes: Same marching orders as before


Notes:  Although a lot of states come in, most of them will be of no interest.  Only Colorado, Wisconsin, and New Mexico are relevant, and they’ll only be of interest if Hillary has not shored up the North Carolina-Pennsylvania-Virginia triad of victory.  Meaning this: If she has two of those three states, she should still be okay if she takes Wisconsin, Colorado and New Mexico – and they are pretty solid blue this year.

Hillary made a play for Arizona this week.  I don’t think she’s going to get it.  But it might be entertaining to see if she does, if you’re still watching at this point.

10:00 pm EST — Polls closed in IOWA, MONTANA, UTAH, NEVADA and some IDAHO

Notes:  Same marching orders as before.  Iowa may be an upset state for Hillary but don’t bet on it.  Nevada might be interesting to watch too.  But basically, all the “at play” states are in at this point, and your focus should still be on the returns of the East Coast and Midwest states.

11:00 pm EST — Polls closed in CALIFORNIA, WASHINGTON, OREGON, HAWAII, and the rest of IDAHO

Notes:  Okay. if it gets to be 11:00 pm and Hillary still hasn’t won it, you can be officially concerned.  Again, I don’t think these new states are going to have a role in the results, although California might “officially” make Hillary the winner if it was close.  But we should have a victor by 11:30 and the ONLY reason to stay up at this point is to see victory speeches and/or whether or not a concession speech is made.

12:00 am EST — Polls closed in ALASKA

Notes:  Seriously, go to bed.  Whatever has happened, has happened.  Can’t do anything about it now.


It really is a big deal whether or not Democrats will win back the Senate.

The races to watch there are:

FLORIDA: Rubio(R) v Murphy(D)
INDIANA: Young(R) v Bayh(D)
MISSOURI: Blunt(R) v. Kandor(D)
NEVADA: Heck(R) v Cortez Masto(D)
NEW HAMPSHIRE: Ayotte(R) v Hassan(D)
PENNSYLVANIA: Toomey(R) v McGinty(D)
WISCONSIN: Johnson(R) v Feingold(D)

These are all truly toss-ups, and because we’re talking about Senate races, there is less polling.  And the whole question of whether Republicans who dislike Trump will split tjhe ticket or show up at all blah blah blah.


Yeah, nobody cares.  I’ll be watching one though:

NEBRASKA 2nd: Bacon(R) v. Ashford(D)(incumbent)


Marijuana (recreational, 21+):

Arizona Prop 205
California Prop 64
Maine Question 1
Massachusetts Question 4
Nevada Question 2

Marijuana (Medical):

Arkansas Issue 6
Florida Amendment 2
Montana Initiative I-182
North Dakota Measure 5

Gun Control:

California Prop 63 (large magazine ammunition magazine ban)
Maine Question 3 (background checks for all gun sales/transfers)
Nevada Question 1 (gun sales only through licensed dealers – some exceptions)
Washington Initiative 1491 (authorizing courts to issue extreme risk protection orders to remove an individual’s access to firearms)

Weird or Unusual

California Prop 60 (porn actors must wear condoms during filming)
California Prop 61 (advising state legislators to overturn Citizens United through amendment to U.S. Constitution)
California Prop 67 (ban on plastic shopping bags)
Maine Question 5 (when voting for state and local leaders, voters rank them in order of preference, then have runoffs)