Election might be over at 4:35 PST

Two days before the election, yours truly correctly predicts that it will be over very early in the evening

If you are planning to attend an election night party this Tuesday and want some excitement, start early. The direction of the outcome will quite likely be clear starting at 3 pm Pacific, and will probably be over shortly after 4:30pm. The reason for this is quite simply that most of the “toss-up” states are among the states that close their polls early.

The first map is a snapshot of New York Times’ electoral map this Sunday evening (November 2nd). Blue means solid (or leaning) Obama, and Red means solid (or leaning) McCain, with Yellow being “toss-ups”. The map shows the surface of each state proportional to electoral college representation.

Electoral College Polling (11/02)

Electoral College Polling (11/02)

The second map shows the closing times of polls in all of the states. If you mentally overlap these two maps, you can see where the action starts playing out. If Microsoft hadn’t decided to omit mapping functions from Excel 2008, I might have made it easier for you.

Poll Closing Times November 4, 2008

Poll Closing Times November 4, 2008

But here is a brief cheat sheet (given where the polls are today; all times given in PST):

  • Indiana at 3pm might shorten the excitement considerably. It’s currently a toss-up, despite historically being strongly Republican, and if it does not get called early for McCain, then the outcome is fairly clear. (Note that parts of Indiana close polls at 4pm since it straddles eastern and central time.)
  • Shortly after 4pm, we’ll start hearing from Florida. The biggest toss-up on the map, and curiously enough perhaps once again the closer; given the 2000 debacle this won’t be called by the networks unless the margins are clear, especially since the (conservative) panhandle closes an hour later. But also, 4pm is when Virginia (leaning Obama with 13 votes) and Georgia (leaning McCain with 15 votes) close.
  • North Carlina and Ohio come in half an hour later, at 4:30pm, as the remaining large toss-ups. By this time, 73 out of the 84 toss-up electoral votes will have started reporting. Also at that time West Virginia closes their polls, which, though small at 5 electoral votes, will be the first “leaning McCain” state of the evening.
  • And, yes, a slew of states close their polls at 5pm, and though the race should be well over by then, if it isn’t, then the key state is Pennsylvania (leaning Obama with 21 votes). By this time, states with 38 electoral votes that are “leaning Obama” will have closed, and McCain must have started to make some trouble to have an outside chance.

In other words, if the polling is reasonably accurate, then we should have a pretty good idea of the outcome remarkably early in the evening.

But when will it be called? If McCain wins in the end, it will be on a squeaker in a number of battlegrounds. Which means it will be late into the night before it’s settled, if not a few weeks of legal wrangling.

But if Obama wins in a landslide, how early might it be called? Looking again at the maps, if we assume Obama wins the blue states and most toss-ups, then the result will be called shortly after 6pm when New York reports their outcome.

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