How important is the US presidency really

Race for the US presidency : How election night goes and what to look out for

270. That is the magic number on the evening of the US election. 270 electors and women mean a majority in the "electoral college" in the electoral body. Donald Trump or Joe Biden need this majority in order to remain or become President of the United States. Because in America it is not the person who wins the majority of the votes who wins the “popular vote”, but the person who receives the majority in the electoral body.

In most states, the distribution of votes is so cemented that you can already tell which candidate will win. The race is open in about a dozen states. So it is important to win these states over. Which are they? And is it worth staying awake?

How does election night go?

Central to this evening is the map of the 50 US states plus Washington D.C., which all major television stations show and comment on that evening. CNN begins its election evening at 4 p.m. American time, i.e. 10 p.m. German time. Fox News starts at midnight German time.

The individual counties - the districts - add up the votes from the electoral offices. When a county has been counted, the result is reported. The television stations then proclaim one of the candidates in a state as the winner if, on that basis, there is an unassailable lead. The electorate of that state is then counted for that candidate. Whoever reaches 270 first is declared the winner.

In the past, the first results were expected from 10 p.m. American time, with trends around midnight. On election night 2016, for example, it was clear at 1.30 a.m. local time that Trump had won the state of Pennsylvania and thus 264 votes, at 2.30 a.m. the ten electorates from Wisconsin made him the winner.

The winner usually steps in front of the press and thanks them for choosing. The loser gives a concession speech early in the morning.

What's different in the Trump era and in times of the pandemic?

A final result will be available in some important states this time at the earliest by the end of the week. Because of the pandemic, as of Sunday evening, 93 of the 270 million Americans have already cast their votes - either by postal vote or in person at an early polling station. That is more than two thirds of the total votes cast in 2016. When to start counting the postal votes is different in each state.

The question of when postal votes must have reached the electoral officers in order to still count was controversial before the election and has not yet been legally clarified in some cases, for example in Pennsylvania.

A result on election night is expected in the contested states of Texas, Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, Minnesota, Nevada and - most importantly - in Florida. There actually quite early. The states of Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan and Pennsylvania don't expect results until several days after election day.

As an alternative, on election evening the election experts will look even more closely than usual at particular counties, because their election history or typical demographic changes in recent years make them exemplary of the situation as a whole. In Florida, for example, Miami-Dade County, Pinellas County, and Osceola County are considered important. In Pennsylvania Westmoreland, Chester, Erie, Alfalfa and Philadelphia.

Which states does Donald Trump and Joe Biden need to win?

In the last few days before the election, it is a great sport among political nerds in America to work out different scenarios and “paths” for one or the other candidate to victory. Interactive maps like those from 270toWin make work easier.

A useful starting point is the result of the last election: Which races were particularly close in 2016? Then they see which races are particularly close this year.

Florida plays a central role in these scenarios, or, as Joe Biden recently said: "If Florida goes blue, it's over." Trump won here in 2016 and the average of the polls showed a statistical stalemate over the weekend. With 29 electoral votes, Florida is also particularly “valuable”.

A second factor is the southern states of Arizona, Texas, and Georgia. They are traditionally “red” and they were also in 2016 - but the Democrats are also gaining ground here because of demographic dynamics and could overturn one or more of the states.

The third factor is the states in the Midwest. Ohio and Iowa won Trump in 2016 by a large margin, this year the races there are closer. Of particular importance are Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, which were Democratic for decades until Trump narrowly won them four years ago.

[The election remains exciting, because of the large number of postal votes, even in the days after election day. Until November 8th Twenty / Twenty, our newsletter for the US election, is therefore published daily. You can register here for free.]

The most likely path for another Trump victory would be for Trump to hold the southern states and Florida to win, as well as Ohio and Iowa. He would then have to win either Pennsylvania or Michigan.

Florida doesn't need Biden. If he wins all those states in which he is currently leading the polls more clearly, he would have made it. If there was a poll error of three percentage points in favor of Trump, Biden would win the election. There are also relatively likely scenarios in which Biden loses both Pennsylvania (20 voters) and Florida (29) and still wins - he would have to hold Wisconsin and Michigan and Arizona win.

What are the advantages of Joe Biden's victory?

Biden leads in the polls, and has been for a long time and much more consistently than Hillary Clinton in 2016. The average of the national polls recently saw Biden ahead with 6.7 percentage points. In Pennsylvania with 4.3, in Michigan with 5.5, in Wisconsin with 6.6.

Another good thing for Biden is that the turnout of young voters seems to be very high. Both millennials and the first generation of voters vote largely democratically.

Overall, voter turnout should also reach a record high. As of Sunday, more than 93 million Americans had cast their vote; in 2016, only 136 million people were voting - out of around 240 million eligible voters.

What speaks for a victory for Donald Trump?

Donald Trump is behind in the average of the national polls and in the average of the polls in the swing states - but only very slightly in some central swing states, such as Arizona and Florida. In Pennsylvania, too, he is by no means on the safe side.

There is also fear that the polls could be wrong again. A central problem in 2016 was that the survey institutes had too few white voters without college degrees in their data - they then went to the polls en masse and voted for Trump. The institutes are now weighting their surveys accordingly - but that is more difficult than ever.

Voter behavior seems to be completely different in these years due to the pandemic. A lot is known about those who have already voted - for example, which party they are registered for; namely about two-thirds for the Democrats. Trump voters will mostly vote personally, to what extent is a “wild card”.

It is also feared that, in the end, many of the mostly democratic postal votes will be invalid - because of incorrectly completed documents or because they arrive outside the deadlines of the states. The Republicans have tried everywhere to set the hurdles for validity as high as possible.

What if Trump doesn't recognize the election?

Most observers are certain that Trump will not admit defeat, certainly not on election night. For weeks, the president has been preparing rhetorically by questioning the legitimacy of the postal vote. When asked, he repeatedly refused to say that he recognized the result of the election.

On Sunday evening he again told reporters, “I think it's terrible that votes can still be counted after the election. (...) I think it's terrible that we don't know the results on election night (...). We will still be in the night (...), as soon as the election is over, we will go in there with our lawyers. "

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The most feared scenario is that Trump wins Florida and on election night is also ahead in the swing states that don't count their postal votes on election day, such as Wisconsin or Pennsylvania. Many states would look “red” on election evening, and Biden would only be recognizable as the winner there through the “blue wave” of postal votes.

Three sources from Trump's environment told a usually well-informed journalist from "Axios" that Trump would declare his victory in this case on election night.

But even in the event that it looks like a victory for Biden, Trump should not give up yet, but point to the end of the count. His team is likely to challenge elections in major states in court. The courts in the individual states would initially have jurisdiction, but lawsuits can also come before the Supreme Court, in which Trump has just created a tough conservative majority with the appeal of Amy Coney Barrett.

In any case, many places are preparing for riots and demonstrations on election night and in the days after. Many of Trump's supporters are firmly convinced of a victory - they do not trust the polls and refer to the actually very high participation in many of his events in the past few days. In Philadelphia and Washington, many downtown businesses are barricaded. And the broadcaster NBC reported on Sunday that the streets around the White House are being cordoned off with a "non-climbable fence".

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