It is, of course, impossible to predict exactly when election results will be available.
But in these off-year elections, with most polls closing between 7 and 8 p.m. Eastern time, it’s not unreasonable to hope for results in a timely manner.
The most closely watched elections are taking place in Kentucky, Ohio, Mississippi and Virginia. Race calls, based on unofficial results, could be made before the clock strikes midnight or in the early hours of Wednesday.
Unforeseen delays are always a risk. But looking to the past, combined with information about how different states count votes, can provide clues about when races may be called.
Elections officials in Kentucky, where an incumbent Democratic governor faces a challenge from the state’s Republican attorney general, will be the first to start counting votes Tuesday.
Polls close at 6 p.m. local time, and the state straddles two time zones. The 79 counties in the Eastern time zone could start releasing initial ballot tallies within minutes of the polls closing. Voting in Kentucky’s remaining 41 counties ends an hour later.
Last year, 94 percent of ballots had been counted before 1:45 a.m. Eastern time the morning after Election Day, according to The Associated Press.
If the margin between two candidates is less than 0.5 percent, the race will go to an automatic recount in accordance with Kentucky’s election laws.
In Virginia, polls will close at 7 p.m. Eastern time. Voters will weigh in on all of the state’s 140 legislative contests Tuesday, and the winners of many will most likely be apparent before the end of election night.
In the last two elections, more than a third of all ballots cast in Virginia were cast by mail or during in-person early voting, according to The A.P. County elections officials can start processing those ballots as soon as they receive them, which can help the state turn around the results of absentee ballots especially quickly.
A ballot initiative that would add the right to an abortion to Ohio’s constitution will be among Tuesday’s most closely watched contests. Polls close at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time.
About 99 percent of votes in an Ohio ballot measure contest this August were counted by the time officials paused election night voting at 2 a.m., according to The A.P. If the results are extremely close — within a quarter of a percent — the initiative will be subject to an automatic recount, which would delay the declaration of an official winner.
Absentee and mail ballots can be processed before the polls close in Ohio, so those results are likely to be among the first available Tuesday evening. Far more Democrats than Republicans requested absentee ballots ahead of the election, according to News 5 Cleveland, and Democrats are generally more supportive of the abortion ballot measure than Republicans. It’s reasonable, then, to expect the “yes” side of the abortion measure to lead early.
Polls in Mississippi will close at 8 p.m. The race between Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, and Brandon Presley, his Democratic challenger, would go to a runoff if neither wins a majority of the votes. If a runoff is needed, it will be held on Nov. 28.
Almost all votes in Mississippi will be cast in person on Election Day, so there won’t be a significant batch of early and absentee votes available soon after polls close. Still, the vast majority of vote counting will take place Tuesday evening and early Wednesday. In the last governor’s election in Mississippi in 2019, 95 percent of votes were counted before 1:30 a.m. Eastern time after Election Day, according to The A.P.