Millions of Americans are expected to head to the polls Tuesday, and after months of campaigning during the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will soon find out their fate.
More than 100 million early votes had already been cast in person or by mail as of Tuesday morning, a record-setting number due to the growing demand for early voting and the pandemic.
U.S. ELECTION LIVE: Ongoing coverage as Americans vote for their next president
Here is a rundown of what to know about election day.
What time do voting polls open and close?
The opening and closing times for polling stations vary from state to state and even city to city.
The earliest a poll opens is in Vermont at 5 a.m. ET. Other eastern states like Maine, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut open at 6 a.m. ET.
The latest a voting poll closes is at 8 p.m. PT (11 p.m. ET) in the western states, like California, Washington and Alaska.
How to watch results live on election night
Global News will have live coverage of the 2020 U.S. election in the video player above from 7:00 p.m. ET to 3:00 a.m., as well as on the Global TV App available on iOS, Android, Chromecast, Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV and the Global News YouTube channel.
U.S. ELECTION RESULTS: Live, real-time election results as America votes
You can also see live, real-time results from the U.S. election on the Global News website, as well as keep track of state-by-state results and see who gets control of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.
How the U.S. election system works
U.S. presidential elections are always held on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. This will be the 59th election since the first one was held in 1788.
The process for electing the president and vice-president is called the Electoral College. Enshrined in the Constitution, the system is intended to balance the preference of the majority with that of individual states.
So, instead of directly voting for a candidate, Americans vote for people called “electors” in their state who then support the candidate they want to become president.
The six biggest states are California (55), Texas (38), New York (29), Florida (29), Illinois (20) and Pennsylvania (20).
There are currently 538 electors in total. Every state is allocated a portion based on how many legislators it has in Congress.
To become president, a candidate needs to receive at least 270 out of 538 electoral votes.
How will the U.S. election day unfold?
More than 98 million people have already cast their ballot in the election, either in person at early voting stations or with mail-in ballots. Millions of more Americans will vote in person on Tuesday.
Once the voting stations close, the counting begins.
Major U.S. news networks and pollsters could announce projected results late on Tuesday or early Wednesday. But these results could be temporary as mail-in ballots will still need to be counted.
Counting the votes … it may take time
Because there are so many mail-in ballots this year, it may take time to count as they must be manually removed from their envelopes and verified as valid before they can be fed into the tabulating machines.
Each state has different rules on when it’s allowed to start counting those ballots, meaning results will be coming in at different times, perhaps days or even weeks after election day.
Election workers in at least 32 states can start processing ballots a week or more before election day, according to the Pew Research Center. And depending on when the mail-in ballots get in, they may not be done counting by election night.
In a half-dozen states, including swing states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, processing can’t start until election day itself.
And in a handful of other states, mail ballots postmarked by election day can still be counted even if they arrive days later.
Will Trump and Biden accept the result?
Biden has said he will accept the full result of the election as long as every vote is counted.
Trump has repeatedly warned of voter fraud without offering any evidence. Because of that, there are concerns he will use delays in vote-counting to declare results illegitimate.
He has refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses.
“Well, we’re going to have to see what happens,” Trump told reporters in September. “You know that I’ve been complaining about the ballots — the ballots are a disaster.”
What happens if the election results are not accepted?
If contested, the election results could end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.
This happened in the 2000 election between former president George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore. Gore said his narrow margin of defeat in Florida should lead to a recount. It took more than a month for the court to decide against a recount to settle the contest in favour of Bush.