7:30 p.m. ET
Where polls close: North Carolina, Ohio, and West Virginia
What was happening around this time four years ago: West Virginia, Indiana, and South Carolina were called for Trump. Exit polls were making lots of mistakes at the local level, but some analysts were seeing trends, including a theme of the night: Clinton was underperforming among noncollege voters (like those in Indiana) but overperforming among high-education voters (like those in Virginia). She was still a strong favorite in betting markets.
What I’ll be focusing on: North Carolina
Four years ago, Clinton was projected to win here. But with a five-point polling error—almost as large as the more famous errors in the upper Midwest—Trump took North Carolina by nearly four points. This year, both FiveThirtyEight and The Economist election forecasts give Biden a roughly two-in-three chance of winning the state. While North Carolina hasn’t received the same attention as Florida or Arizona, its 15 Electoral College votes could make it a tipping-point state. Even if Biden loses Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona, and Georgia, he’ll likely win the election with North Carolina if he also flips Wisconsin and Michigan. Another thing to watch here is the Senate race, in which the Democratic challenger, Cal Cunningham, is projected to defeat the Republican incumbent, Senator Thom Tillis.
What else to watch for: Ohio
Trump took the state by eight points in 2016, but polls indicate that Biden has clawed back much of that deficit. On Sunday, Biden visited the state, suggesting that his campaign thinks he has a shot there. But several election watchers, such as Dave Wasserman, have said that, among all the likely swing states, Ohio is the 2016 Trump state least likely to turn blue. Similar to North Carolina, Ohio will probably report early voting and mail-in ballots quickly, potentially creating another blue mirage that will turn red over the course of the night.
What to ignore: Misleading early returns
North Carolina’s projected ballot reporting is almost certainly going to confuse people. The North Carolina State Board of Elections says that 80 percent of all votes—including early in-person votes and mail-in ballots—will be counted by 7:30 p.m. That means we’ll likely get a huge chunk of data very quickly. But these early returns could be Pollyannaish for Biden. The state might not start reporting Election Day returns, which will be better for Trump, until after 8 p.m. As a result, we’ll likely see a blue mirage that reddens throughout the evening. Almost all North Carolina ballots cast should be reported by midnight, according to The New York Times. Early returns in Ohio will also likely lean blue. In general, avoid too much projecting of early statewide numbers.
8 p.m. ET
Where polls close: Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, D.C., Florida, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Tennessee*