How to Understand (and Stay Sane During) the Election Returns: A Guide to the Angst-Ridden

If you have made it this far without losing your sanity, or relinquishing your membership in the human race, you know what the possibilities are for tomorrow.


The republicans are likely (though not quite a lock) to take control of the House, where the main question is by how many seats. Larry Sabato thinks they’ll gain about two dozen, so that might be a good benchmark, i.e., anything under that is something of a moral victory for the democrats, anything over that marks a bad night. Of course, if they can hold their losses to four, then Nancy Pelosi lives another day to star in republican attack ads.


However, it’s still about fifty-fifty for how the senate will break, and that means we’re almost certainly in for a long and crazy night. Many important states will be slow to report, many will show initial “mirages” based on disparities between the counting of early or absentee votes and election-day votes, and Georgia may end up sending the whole election season into overtime. Again.


And so, the Toteboard’s advice is that you not spend all evening sitting and watching MSNBC (or PBS, or CNN, for that matter), agonizing over every little rise and fall in the percentages. Rather, it might be just as informative and less crazy-making to poke your nose in on the FiveThirtyEight live blog every once in a while, and hear what people who actually understand numbers have to say. Think of it as an extended dining experience, where there might be several hours between courses. And if the tranquilizers aren’t too potent, the Toteboard just might send out the occasional email blast.


But regardless of whether you watch every tabulation in excruciating detail, or just check in from time to time, here’s a synopsis of when the polls close for all the key senate races, and some sense of what we’ll know and when we’ll know it. In other words, here is what’s on the menu:


Fruit Cup: 7:00


Primary Battleground State: Georgia (Raphael Warnock vs. Herschel Walker)

After 2020’s drawn-out vote-counting, Georgia’s republican legislators made numerous changes to the state’s elections laws, many of which are in place to expedite the tabulation of early and absentee votes. We’ll probably see most of the results by around 11:00 or so, but things could drag on if it’s close. What’s more, it’s very possible that this one will go to a runoff, and it’s very possible that once again the runoff will decide control of the senate. The night starts with Georgia, but the political world may end with it as well.


Appetizers: 7:30


Democratic Target: North Carolina (Cheri Beasley vs. Ted Budd)

It looks like North Carolina will be releasing the early and absentee voting first, perhaps by about 8:30, followed by the election-day votes. Unless there are unanticipated glitches, or an unanticipated surge by Beasley, we could know the winner of this low-profile race as early as 9:30 or 10:00.


Longshot Democratic Target: Ohio (Tim Ryan vs. JD Vance)

As was the case two years ago, Ohio will count and release early and absentee votes first, which could result in a Blue mirage, but that should be rectified by late in the evening. Ohio’s 2020 presidential race was called at midnight, but it could go longer this time if Ryan makes things closer than Biden did.


The Main Course, Part I: 8:00


Primary Battleground State: Pennsylvania (John Fetterman vs. Mehmet Oz)

The opposite of Ohio, this state gets a late start processing mail ballots, so the early-evening mirage could be a Red one. Given the anticipated pace of vote-counting, this one quite literally could take days, though state officials claim to be better prepared for handling the volume than they were two years ago.


Necessary Democratic Hold: New Hampshire (Maggie Hassan vs. Don Bolduc)

Tiny New Hampshire is a historically slow-counting state, but probably not as slow as some of the most severe knuckle-draggers. If it’s close, we might not know until midnight or a bit later.


Longshot Democratic Target: Florida (Val Demings vs. Marco Rubio)

Despite its historic meltdowns in 2000 and beyond, Florida seems to have gotten its shit together over the last few cycles, and should get results out there pretty quickly. We might see almost everything by about 9:00, though networks might be slow to call it if the Demings makes it tight.


The Main Course, Part II: 9:00


Necessary Democratic Hold: Arizona (Mark Kelly vs. Blake Masters)

Don’t spend a lot of time waiting for results on this one. Nothing will be released for the first hour, and the first deluge of early votes may create a Blue mirage that will be hard to interpret. In 2020, the state had barely 80% of the vote counted by noon the next day, and there’s no reason to think they’re in a bigger hurry this time.


Necessary Democratic Hold: Colorado (Michael Bennet vs. Joe O’Dea)

If history is any indication, things will be slow, largely because the majority of voters opt for mail-in ballots. Colorado could be only slightly quicker than Arizona, but may get called sooner if Bennet can hang on to his comfortable lead.


Democratic Target: Wisconsin (Mandela Barnes vs. Ron Johnson)

Like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin has laws that prevent timely counting of mail-in and absentee ballots, and some precincts are traditionally lackadaisical in their reporting, so state officials aren’t promising anything definitive before Wednesday. Still, there seems to be lighter volume of mail-in votes, so that might speed things up a bit.


Don’t Forget Dessert: 10:00


Primary Battleground State: Nevada (Catherine Cortez Masto vs. Adam Laxalt)

Slow, slower, slowest. Between the idiosyncratic rules about when they start counting votes, and a generous policy toward counting properly postmarked mail-in ballots, we probably won’t be talking about this race on Thanksgiving, but we just might be during the Birthday of Amitabha Buddha.


Sorbet: All Night Long


So, that’s how to keep score on election night. But here’s a little food for thought. If you’d like an alternative to fixating on the results, the Toteboard recommends several other ways to engage in self-care during what will no doubt be a long and difficult evening: