Election Day is finally here! But we’ve still got to get through it. Here’s what to watch for — and a few things that might keep you entertained in the event that your “I Voted”-sticker-induced faith in humanity starts to falter.
Are we there yet?
It seems somewhat fitting that this slog of an election year is going to end with a slow montage of people waiting for their chance to be the one vote that officially ends this nightmare. The polls start closing at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, but people will still be voting until at least 1 a.m. ET. And although more than 40 million Americans have already cast ballots, millions more will be waiting in line today. Some of them are going to have to wait a long time; in 2012, more than 10 million people waited over 30 minutes to vote, and people have already been waiting for hours during the early-voting process this year, especially in precincts with more minorities. In Cincinnati on Sunday, 4,000 people were waiting in one line to vote. So shots of long lines at the polls shouldn’t inspire you to say, "WOO! DEMOCRACY IN ACTION" — especially if you remember that a lot of people in those lines probably have to rush to work or pick up their kids from school, and that these problems could have been avoided if election boards had planned ahead better. (Or if they hadn’t deliberately tried to prevent people of color from voting in the first place.)
This year, while we're waiting for the polls to come in, we can get an idea of what might be happening in each state thanks to the data-analysis startup Votecastr, which will start posting real-time projections on Vice and Slate early in the day. Depending on how things look in Nevada, Florida, and North Carolina, we might know who the next president is before the night even begins. (All of the polling aggregators say that Hillary Clinton will win.)
If it does take longer to get the results, you can just look at this countdown clock until the moment comes. We're almost there.
What happens if Trump loses?
Trump has strongly hinted that he’ll refuse to accept the results on election night — unless, of course, he wins. He has said he wants to keep people "in suspense," as though this were sweeps week and not democracy. Democracy is supposed to be boring! Or rather, you don't really want government to be too exciting. Fortunately, the transfer of power does not depend on his personal concession, it just depends on the electoral college; unfortunately, the peaceful transfer of power does kinda depend on how he handles a defeat. Much has been made about the dog-whistle-y ways in which Trump has signaled to his followers that they shouldn't accept the results. But in the end, we may be saved by Trump supporters' reluctance to put much effort into their revolution. After all, despite his frequent appeals to would-be poll watchers in Philadelphia, very few people actually signed up. The New York Times went to a rally looking for people committed to insurrection and found more sorrow and disappointment at the thought of a Clinton victory than any actual plan to resist. In the end, Trump's desire to create suspense, and even foment violence, may simply be the product of a raging ego and untrammeled petulance.
There are two obvious firsts that could happen tonight based on the results — we're either getting our first female president or our first reality-TV-veteran president. But here are some other firsts that could come to pass:
Congress will soon have its first Latina senator or only biracial senator, thanks to California
It looks like California attorney general Kamala Harris will become the only black woman in the Senate next year — and the only biracial or Indian-American woman to ever serve. She's ahead of Representative Loretta Sanchez — who dabbed at their last debate — in the polls. Regardless of what happens in the race, however, history will be made: Sanchez would also be the first Latina senator ever. Carol Moseley Braun, who retired in 1999, is the only black woman to have ever served in the Senate.
Oregon could elect an LGBTQ governor for the first time
Kate Brown was appointed to run Oregon after the previous governor resigned because of a scandal involving his fiancée. She had five days' notice. Brown was the first openly bisexual governor in America — and now might become the first bisexual governor to ever get elected by voters.
A general-election presidential candidate got away with not releasing his tax returns ...
... for the first time since 1980. Yup, we still haven't seen Trump’s tax returns — or any proof that he has actually given any of those charitable donations he brags about.
The first Native American woman could get elected to Congress
The polling doesn't look promising for Denise Juneau, but if she were to win Montana's House seat, she'd be the first American Indian candidate to ever win a seat in Congress. It's also the 100th anniversary of Jeannette Rankin becoming the first woman to ever get elected to Congress. She was the last woman to win a federal election in Montana.
A physically disabled candidate will win the Illinois Senate race
Incumbent Mark Kirk and Representative Tammy Duckworth both use a wheelchair — this is the first time two physically disabled candidates have faced off in a race.
Elections bring out the gadget geek in television commentators. It's not enough to just talk about numbers, they have to figure out new and different — or at least just different — ways to show you those numbers. While Luddites like Fox News’s Karl Rove stick with their trusty whiteboards, more ambitious folks mess around with wall-size touchscreens. CNN has experimented with holograms in the past, which didn't add much to the broadcast other than raising hopes for guest commentary from Tupac. One thing you can count on: Some of this equipment will fail, at which point the anchor will turn to the camera with some self-effacing grin and say, "Technology, huh, folks?"
This is your ballot on drugs
Tonight will decide the fate of the presidency and the Senate (and all the issues that might be addressed by those branches in the next four to six years). But the residents of several states are also about to issue direct verdicts on dozens of policy issues. Five states (Nevada, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Arizona) appear poised to legalize marijuana, and three other states (North Dakota, Florida, and Arkansas) have measures on medical marijuana. California and Nebraska are voting on whether to ban the death penalty, and Oklahoma is deciding whether to make its constitution say that the death penalty isn't cruel and unusual punishment. South Dakota voters will decide if teenagers deserve the same minimum wage as everyone else, and four other states (Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and Washington) are deciding whether to increase the minimum wage. In Colorado, voters will decide whether to try single-payer health care, and three states will decide whether to expand background checks. California is voting on a slew of issues, including condom usage in porn. Donors and corporations have spent a ridiculous amount of money supporting or opposing these measures. And the New York Times reported this weekend that special interests are now spending lots of money on the campaigns of state secretaries of state, the people who write these initiatives (and oversee all parts of the electoral process).
The end of the mystery of the “shy Trump voter”
Pundits, especially those sympathetic to Trump, have spent the entire election cycle arguing for the existence of "invisible" Trump supporters — people who are planning on voting for Trump but refuse to tell pollsters that. Because, uh, they're ashamed of what random, anonymous phone pollsters might think of them? This doesn’t quite jive with the DGAF attitude that characterizes Trump’s loyal deplorables, but the Trump campaign is still basing its entire closing strategy on the idea that there are vast swaths of uncounted Trump voters out there. The Trump campaign stopped paying its in-house pollster some time ago; his camp appears to be creating campaign strategies based on the same nebulous array of anecdotes and gut feelings that have produced his so-called policies. People who study polls have looked for evidence of the "shy Trump voter" phenomenon and not found much — but it's impossible to say for sure until the polls actually close.
What if it’s a tie??
All the candidates have to do is get to 270 electoral college votes and then this whole mess is over, but given everything we’ve been through this election year, we should probably go over what to expect if things get complicated. It seems highly likely that the night will end with Hillary victorious, but let's discuss a few less-likely scenarios.
If there’s a tie, and both candidates end up with 269 votes, the House — and its Republican, potentially Trump-queasy majority — gets to decide the election. Third-party candidates Gary Johnson and Evan McMullin see this outcome as their only path to glory.
And what if the race is so incredibly close that someone calls for a recount? In this scenario, it's important to understand that a recount doesn't mean that the election was rigged or that there was voter fraud, and it doesn't mean that the person challenging the results of the election is a disgrace. It just means that the election is crazy close, and that everyone wants to make sure that all the votes were counted very, very carefully. If the loser wins the popular vote and loses the Electoral College — like Al Gore did in 2000 — a recount might happen.
To make things even more complicated, two electors in Washington have said that they're unsure about voting for Clinton, despite the fact that the Democratic nominee is 97 percent likely to win the state. In Georgia, a "faithless elector" who didn't want to vote for Trump resigned, giving up his position to someone who felt more comfortable obeying the wishes of his state's voters. It's unclear what will happen in Washington — or if there are other electors planning to take advantage of our weird, undemocratic system of picking presidents.
It takes a village of clichés to fill 24 hours of Election Day coverage. Here are some of the ones you will hear the most.
The election will come down to turnout
This is basically the "the team that gets the most touchdowns will win" of campaign journalism. Whenever you hear these words, refresh by checking in on the results for North Carolina, Florida, and Nevada — the states that we've tasked with actually picking our next president.
Concession speech award-show moments
The speech that election losers have to give is basically like if the people who didn't win at the Oscars had to give a speech, too, instead of just letting their forlorn split-screen reaction do all the talking for them. They will thank their supporters and their staffers. They will say that they learned so much from traveling America this year, and they know that the spirit of our country will continue to fight for another election — just like the candidate will never stop fighting for you. They will congratulate their opponent. But it doesn't matter how many clichés they deploy, because no one will ever remember that this speech ever happened.
We are watching this closely
The "um" of election night.
This election is historic
The "like" of election night.
Ground game; "the only poll that matters"; firewall
The "How about this weather we're having, huh?" of election night.
The "lesser of two evils"
If a reporter finds an undecided voter today, they will discuss that they have yet to decide which presidential candidate is slightly less inclined to worship Satan. Their friends have told them about Gary Johnson, but it hasn't helped. They may have to close their eyes and point at one of the candidates on the ballot to finally decide, or just play "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe."