As we gather with friends and family tonight (or sit alone in front of the TV and a couple of computer screens) and enjoy our beverage of choice while watching election returns, here are a few things to keep in mind:
The last polls close at
7:30 8:15, but not all precincts can start counting right away
(UPDATE: Due to some precincts polling places opening late this morning, the State Board of Elections decided to keep those polling places open later this evening. We will start getting results after 8:15.
North Carolina is one of the earlier states to close its polls on election day. However, anyone who is in line at the 7:30 PM closing time will be allowed to vote, meaning that some precincts will not stop accepting ballots for a while after the official closing time. That also means that some precincts will be reporting late if there is still a line at 8:15
We will know who won nearly every race in North Carolina on election night
All one-stop (early in-person) and mail ballots are officially tabulated on the afternoon on election day after being accepted by the county board of elections. Those results are released by each county soon after polls close.
That is why the NC State Board of Elections (SBE) expects that the vast majority of ballots will be counted and reported on election night:
The N.C. State Board of Elections anticipates that the results reported by the end of election night will include 97 percent or more of all ballots cast in North Carolina in the 2020 general election.
While the SBE cautions that the results will not be official until the state canvass on November 24, the mail and provisional ballots accepted after election day will not be enough to shift any but the closest (perhaps a half a percentage point difference or less) races.
Expect a “red shift” on election night
Political observers are aware of the so-called “blue shift” that took place in several states in 2018. That is due to rules in some states that do not count early or mail votes until after election day. With the expansion of early and mail voting this year, and the propensity of Republicans to vote on election day, that blue shift could be even more pronounced in those states. While most of the states that experience a large blue shift are on the safely-Democratic west coast, the phenomenon could produce several days of nail-biting while waiting for final results in states like Georgia and (especially) Pennsylvania.
Because North Carolina reports one-stop and mail ballot results soon after polls close, and because Democrats are a larger proportion of those voting methods, Democrats will start with large leads in nearly every statewide race during the first hour or so after the polls close.
Republicans tend to dominate election day voting, so Republican candidates will eat into those Democratic leads as the evening progresses. The drama in each race will be whether the Democrat’s early lead will hold or if the Republican will pull ahead before all the ballots are counted.
We will know the winner of most races on election night, but it could be a long night.