It might have been your least favorite subject, but on Election Day Tuesday, math is the most important subject; even more important than Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Of course, it will be the most important subject to all candidates running that day.
After all of the tumult and tedium of a long, ugly presidential campaign, Election Day is all about which candidate can win enough states to get to 270 electoral votes.
From pre-dawn voting in New Hampshire to late-night poll closes in Alaska, it’s sure to be a long day.
Some things to watch for along the way Tuesday as the autumn of our campaign discontent hurtles to a close. All times are EST.
The first burst of results will emerge when polls close at 7 p.m. in Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia. Look for more big blasts of numbers just after 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., when polls close in a combined 30 states and the District of Columbia. The 11 p.m. batch of states includes big kahuna California, with 55 electoral votes. Alaska, where polls close at 1 a.m. on Wednesday, brings up the rear.
News organizations will keep a running tally of how Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are doing in their quest for 270 electoral votes. But you can always go full nerd and play around with a Road to 270 calculator to try to get your favored candidate to the magic number. Beware: It can take a while for the picture on election night to clarify, simply because of how the vote rolls in across the country. In 2012, Republican Mitt Romney was still ahead in the electoral and popular vote at 10:30 p.m.; an hour later, President Barack Obama was on the brink of re-election.
THE FEW, THE PROUD, THE EARLY
There are a few hardy exceptions to the established poll-close times. Polls in the tiny New Hampshire towns of Dixville, Hart’s Location, and Millsfield will open just after midnight on Tuesday morning and close as soon as everyone has voted, typically right away. These die-hard voters are proud to have the first word on the big vote.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
More than 46 million people are expected to vote before Election Day. Not Clinton or Trump. Both are expected to make a show of trekking to their local polling places on Tuesday, Clinton in Chappaqua, New York, and Trump in New York City. Their running mates – Democrat Tim Kaine of Virginia and Republican Mike Pence of Indiana – will vote where they live, and later team up with their principals in New York. Stay tuned to see what other last-ditch moves for votes the candidates make.
EARLY TEA LEAVES
For an early read on how things are going, keep an eye on Virginia in the presidential contest. If Clinton doesn’t get a winner’s call there by 9 p.m. or 10 p.m., it could be a positive sign for Trump. Watch Indiana for an early indicator in the tug-of-war for control of the Senate; if Evan Bayh can manage a comeback, that’ll be a good sign for Democrats hoping to retake the Senate.
EXIT POLL EXPLANATIONS
Data collected from polling-place interviews with voters will offer a wealth of information to help explain who voted for whom, and why people voted the way they did. Among the questions to be answered by the exit polls: Do voters cast ballots for their candidates enthusiastically or holding their noses? Do blacks give strong backing to Clinton after recent worries about their turnout in early voting? Who wins college-educated whites, who typically skew Republican but are being courted by Clinton? In a race so often roiled by Trump’s comments about women, what does the gender gap look like? Did people care about Clinton’s problems with her private email setup? Were they worried about Trump’s temperament? From whom did third-party candidates siphon votes? There’s so much to absorb; this data will be sliced, diced, mined and pondered for months.
With the Republican Party in disarray, exit polls will help show how many GOP voters choose to split their tickets. Check out how many Republicans reject Trump while voting for GOP candidates in Senate and House races.
The reddest of the red states offers some drama this year. Keep an eye on the Utah vote for independent candidate Evan McMullin, who’s apparently drawing significant support there and giving Trump heartburn in a state that should be a lock for him. (Polls close at 10 p.m. EST)
Keep a second screen handy to get the full election night picture. Four years ago, Obama went to Twitter with his first reaction once the votes clearly pointed toward his re-election. Trump’s tweetstorms are legendary. On election night in 2012, he tweeted that the election was a “total sham and a travesty” and encouraged “a revolution in this country.” He deleted some of the tweets after NBC’s Brian Williams said Trump had “driven well past the last exit to relevance and veered into something closer to irresponsible.” After that, Trump started tweeting rants aimed at Williams.
If Clinton emerges the victor, it will be a historic moment for women as she shatters that “highest, hardest glass ceiling.” A victory speech would be one for the ages.
THE BIG QUESTION
The question has been dangling out there: Will Trump accept the results of the presidential election if he loses? “I’ll keep you in suspense,” he said at the last debate. The world is waiting for his answer.
WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
The presidential race has sucked up most of the oxygen over the past year, but there will be lots more to take in on election night, with control of the Senate and House at stake, 12 states electing governors, and assorted ballot proposals around the country. In the House: Republicans hold a 247-188 majority, including three vacancies. Democrats could pick up 10 or more seats, perhaps even more than 20, but don’t expect to take control. In the Senate: Republicans are furiously working to protect their 54-46 majority. Control of the Senate is likely to come down to just over a half-dozen top races. A dozen governor’s offices also are up for grabs, at least seven appearing competitive. Among issues on ballot proposals: the death penalty, gun control and marijuana legalization.
Every election has its glitches; this one could have more than most. It’s the first presidential election without a key enforcement provision of the federal Voting Rights Act, and 14 states have new registration or voting restrictions. Expect to see reports of frustration, long lines, names missing from voter rolls, etc. Beyond that, Trump for months has been complaining that the election is rigged against him and warning of widespread voter fraud, which is sure to stir up emotions. Just remember that overall, voting officials say there’s no reason to question the integrity of the election.
Security experts will be on high alert for any cyber shenanigans, especially after hackers attempted to breach systems in two states over the summer. Tampering with the actual vote count is highly unlikely, given the highly decentralized voting setup in the U.S. But hackers could try to shake confidence in the election results by making mischief with public-facing websites or by launching cyberattacks to knock portions of the internet offline.