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Red and Blue Shifts in Play

538 has a very detailed guide out on When To Expect Election Results In Every State.

It is almost too much information, but for political junkies it's perfect. 

Take California, for instance. The state accepts ballots that arrive as late as Nov. 20. But we will know within hours who won. Heck, we know now. Biden won. 

Let's look at the states likely to matter.


  • These are condensed highlights that I selected. 
  • Emphasis is mine.
  • There are more details in the 538 post.

Arizona ResultsMost votes should be counted on election night, but full results may take a few days. However, absentee ballots received at the last minute will not be reported until perhaps Thursday or Friday. So if it’s a close race, we might have to wait for those last few ballots before knowing who won.

Arizona Shift: The very first batch of results on election night is expected to be early and absentee votes, which will likely lean Democratic. Then, the results may shift toward Republicans later in the evening as Election Day votes are counted. However, they may then shift back toward Democrats in the days after the election as the last few absentee ballots are tallied.

Florida Results: Should be very fast. Florida is accustomed to handling a heavy volume of mail ballots and has laws (like letting counties process absentee ballots weeks in advance and not accepting most ballots that arrive after Election Day) that encourage an early count. In other words, results should be nearly complete within a couple hours of polls closing. 

Florida Shift: The first batch of results, consisting of early votes and pre-tabulated mail ballots, is due to the secretary of state within 30 minutes of polls closing and will probably be skewed toward Democrats. Expect a red shift as Election Day votes are reported, however. If there are still mail ballots being counted on Wednesday or later, though, that could lead to a late blue shift.

Georgia Results: Should be relatively quick. “For races that aren’t too close, we’ll have those results” on election night, the secretary of state told WSB-TV. “For the races that are very, very close, we believe that we’ll have them by Wednesday or Thursday at the latest.”

Georgia Shifts: Hard to say. Each county treats absentee votes differently, and with (Democratic-leaning) absentee votes being reported at different times throughout the state, it’s possible we’ll see some miniature red and blue shifts on the county level, which may cancel each other out statewide.

Iowa Results: Most votes will be counted quickly, but some will continue to trickle in after Election Day. However, Iowa law also requires officials to count mail ballots that arrive by Nov. 9 (as long they’re postmarked by Nov. 2), so results won’t be final for about a week. The question is how many ballots will arrive at the last minute.

Iowa Shifts: Late-arriving mail ballots will probably skew Democratic, producing a blue shift in the days after Nov. 3.

Michigan Results: It’s going to take a few days. The earliest absentee ballots can be processed is Nov. 2, which likely does not leave enough time to count them all by election night. The secretary of state estimates that it could take until Friday, Nov. 6, for all ballots to be counted and a winner to be declared.

Michigan Shifts: Margins will probably shift toward Democrats in the days after Nov. 3 as mail votes are added to the results.

Missouri Results: Should be pretty fast. Election officials are confident that near-complete returns will be released on election night.

Missouri Shifts: There will probably be a red shift. Most counties release (Democratic-leaning) mail and absentee ballots first, followed by (Republican-leaning) Election Day votes later in the evening.

North Carolina Results: Initial results will come very fast, but the rest will take time. Election officials estimate that up to 80 percent of the total vote could be announced right after polls close at 7:30 p.m., including in-person early votes and all mail ballots received by Nov. 2. Election Day returns will then trickle out over the course of the next several hours (those results are expected to take longer than usual because equipment must be sanitized after polling places close). However, North Carolina counts absentee ballots that arrive as late as Nov. 12, so there will definitely be some counting for at least nine days after Election Day. The question is whether there will be enough late-arriving ballots to keep any races uncalled.

North Carolina Shifts: The first dump of results (which will be entirely mail and early votes) will probably be too good to be true for Democrats. A red shift will likely occur as Election Day votes are reported. However, late-arriving mail ballots may help Democrats claw their way back during the Nov. 4-12 count.

Ohio Results: Most results will be announced quickly, but we’ll have to wait for the rest. By 8 p.m. Eastern, each county is required to announce the results of all absentee ballots (including early in-person votes) that were received by Election Day. Results from Election Day polling places will then follow throughout the night. However, Ohio also counts absentee ballots that arrive by mail until Nov. 13 — but counties will not announce those results until their official canvasses on Nov. 14-18 (interim results will not be reported). That said, counties will report the number of outstanding absentee ballots late on election night, so we will know whether there are enough ballots remaining to affect the winner of the election.

Ohio Shifts: The first results on election night (absentee ballots) will probably skew Democratic. Then, we’ll probably see a red shift as Republican-leaning Election Day votes are counted. Finally, the last vote dump on Nov. 14-18 (more absentee ballots) could benefit Democrats.

Pennsylvania Results: It’ll be slow going. Although around half of Pennsylvanians are expected to vote absentee, those ballots can’t start being processed until 7 a.m. on Nov. 3. Simply put, that’s not enough time for many counties to count them all before the day is over. (For example, Bucks County plans to count ballots 24 hours a day and still doesn’t expect to be done until the end of the week.) Overall, election officials estimate that “the overwhelming majority” of votes will be counted by Friday. That said, don’t rule out an even longer wait. During the June primary, about half of counties were still counting a week after the election. No matter what, we’ll definitely know the outcome by Nov. 23 — the deadline for counties to stop counting.

Pennsylvania Shifts: Election-night results are expected to be disproportionately made up of Election Day votes, which will probably skew Republican. Then, as absentee ballots are counted in the ensuing days, the state will probably experience a blue shift.

Texas Results: The bulk of the results will be known on election night. Early votes, Election Day votes and (thanks to a generous ballot-processing window) absentee ballots received by 7 p.m. local time on Nov. 3 will all be counted that night, which should give us a pretty clear picture of the state of the races there. However, domestic absentee ballots are allowed to arrive as late as 5 p.m. local time on Wednesday, which could add a fair number of ballots to the hopper.

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Texas Shifts: In most counties, absentee and early in-person votes are the first to report; these could be disproportionately good for Democrats. When Election Day votes are reported, expect Republicans to gain. Finally, absentee ballots that arrive on Wednesday could give Democrats a small boost.

Wisconsin Results: It may take all night, but we should have all results by Wednesday morning. Despite not being able to process absentee ballots until Election Day (which originally stoked fears of a delayed count), many counties say they will be able to count everything on election night: Washington County plans to have all results by 10:30 p.m. Eastern; Kenosha, Sheboygan and Fond du Lac by 1 a.m. Eastern; Waukesha County by 4 a.m. Eastern; and Milwaukee County sometime between 4 and 7 a.m. Eastern. The governor has predicted that we will know the outcome of the election “hopefully that night and maybe at the latest the very next day.”

Wisconsin Shifts: Most municipalities count absentee and Election Day votes together, but others — including Milwaukee — count them separately and may release absentee votes all at once toward the end of the night, which could nudge races toward Democrats.

10 Key Points

  1. Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Wisconsin are the 12 states to watch.
  2. Missouri is on the list not because it is a battleground state, but because of a potential significant Blue Shift that may be very misleading early going.  Democrats have about an 8% chance of winning Missouri.  Forget about it.
  3. Florida should be fast. If it goes to Biden, it's realistically all over for Trump.
  4. Georgia should be fast. If it goes for Biden, it will be a bad night for Trump. 
  5. North Carolina may be fast. It depends on margin. If Biden is significantly ahead by morning, he will win. If it's very close it could take days.
  6. Ohio is the same as North Carolina. It will either be fast or take days.
  7. Iowa is the third state that could be fast or take a few days. 
  8. Pennsylvania will be slow. Period. And it could get very messy if it comes down to that state. Trump is pulling out all the stops with legal challenges. 
  9. Texas is likely to be fast and likely to go to Trump. However there is a 30-40% chance the state flips to Biden. If Texas does flip, it will be a disaster for Republicans. 
  10. Wisconsin will be fast. If Biden wins Wisconsin Trump's odds of winning are remote.

What Is the Likelihood of Knowing Who Won on Election Eve?

Nate Silver discusses that in a video just released. 

How Silver Sees Things 

  • 60% chance of a Biden win and we know by 3AM.
  • 30% chance Biden wins and it takes longer.
  • 10% chance Trump wins and that would take longer.
  • 5% chance this ends up in the courts.

My Take 

Late Voting Counts Until When

On October 28, I posted the above chart in We Will Know Who Won the Election Within a Day

I was a bit more general that Silver, Whereas he said "3:00 AM", I said "within a day".

I also provided discussion similar to Silver on a state by state basis, but admittedly Silver was more detailed, especially in regards to red and blue shifts.

Maximum Uncertainty

Maximum Uncertainty

I posted that chart on October 28 as well.

As you can see, it nearly matches what I considered the key points that Silver discussed.

 Likely to Quickly Know (As Posted Oct 28)

  • AZ: 11
  • TX: 38
  • WI: 10
  • GA: 16
  • FL: 29
  • ME: 1
  • NE: 1
  • Total of Above: 106

Biden needs 270-222 = 48 of 106.

In the quick to know states, there are numerous possibilities how Biden can wrap this up quickly and none where Trump can.

What About the Courts?

I do not believe this heads to the courts, at least in a way that is likely to matter. 

But who knows what Trump might try even if the result is not in doubt (in a foolish attempt to save face in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, or Wisconsin). 

Finally, if you haven't voted yet, please Do NOT Vote By Mail, Trap is Set