The 2016 US election takes place on Tuesday Nov 8 2016, after which the world’s most powerful nation will have a new leader. Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will become the 45th President of the United States.
What happens on election day itself?
Polling booths will open in all 50 states and in Washington DC across six time zones.
Timings vary for each state – voting either opens between 6am and 7am and closes between 7pm and 8pm (in Iowa and North Dakota polls are open till 9pm). More than 120 million Americans are expected to cast votes.
Will there be exit polls?
As soon as polls close, there will be a projection for that state based on opinion polls carried out throughout the day. These should give a good indication of who has won that state, although as we have seen in recent UK elections, they are not to be relied upon. We will get our first projections from east coast states. There may be a dozen states where it’s too close to call based on exit polls, and in those states the TV networks will make no projection and we will have to wait for the actual results.
Where will the first results be announced?
Dixville Notch in New Hampshire is the Sunderland of America. The village, just 20 miles from the Canadian border, is known for being one of the first places to declare its results – often up to 24 hours before the rest of the country. The village has a longstanding tradition of middle-of-the-night voting, whereby all the eligible voters in Dixville Notch gather at midnight in the ballroom of a ski resort, hours before most polling stations officially open. When all registered voters have voted, sometimes one minute later, the result is announced. Dixville Notch competes with several other towns and villages in New Hampshire for the honour of first to declare, including Hart’s Location.
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When will we know who has won?
Usually by around 11pm on the East Coast (4am GMT) it has become clear that one side has prevailed. The magic number is 270 electoral college votes – each state, plus Washington DC, is awarded a certain number of electoral votes based roughly on size. When the winner is beyond doubt, the losing candidate calls the winner to concede. Both Mrs Clinton and Mr Trump will give a speech: one to claim victory and the other admit defeat. But there is always the possibility – as happened in 2000 – that at the end of Election Day we may still not know who has won.
The result could either be too close to call without counting every vote or else legal battles over election procedures may delay the result or force a recount. It could even be a tie, with both candidates stuck at 269, in which case the House of Representatives would vote choose the next president.
Why is the election on Tuesday November 8?
The election is in November because America was a predominantly agrarian society and November was the quietest for rural workers. It is always traditionally on a Tuesday to allow people living in rural areas time to travel to towns and cities to vote, removing the need to travel on a Sunday. It is always the first Tuesday after the first Monday to avoid the election falling on November 1st. This was to avoid clashing with All Saints Day and the day when businessmen traditionally did their accounting from the previous month.
What are the new voting laws?
Voting rules vary widely by state and sometimes by county, meaning some Americans can register the same day they vote, while others must do so weeks in advance. Some can mail in a ballot, while others must stand in line at a polling place that might be miles from home. Some who forget photo identification can simply sign an affidavit and have their ballot count, while others must return with their ID within a few days or their vote doesn’t matter. Fourteen states have new voting and registration rules in place for this election, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law. Legal challenges have led to a multitude of recent court rulings that have blocked or struck down some provisions and upheld or reinstated others, scrambling the picture further.