1. Heavy turnout in the morning, lighter but still heavy turnout in the evening.
While there is some variation, the busiest time for voting will be in the morning before 9am, getting less-busy midday and potentially picking up again after work. If you’re voting on Election Day, the best time to go to avoid a wait is the early afternoon.
2. Expect some lines in urban areas at times, particularly at opening and closing, but most voters won’t experience long waits.
Where there are large concentrations of voters who didn’t or couldn’t vote early or by mail, it’s not uncommon for there to be lines in the morning and the evening on Election Day. In most cases, election officials are ready for this, and if this election is like past presidential elections, 80-90% of voters will wait less than 30 minutes to vote.
3. Exit polling, no matter how sophisticated the algorithm, won’t tell the full story.
More voters than ever before will vote before Election Day, and polling, exit or otherwise, has grown more challenging overall, as mobile phones become more pervasive and response rates decline. And this election is likely to be unique, so the swing precincts that exit pollsters concentrate on might not follow historical trends. In other words, if any media or prognosticators tell you that a state is going a certain way in the presidential race while the polls are still open, take that information with a gigantic grain of salt. And, if that happens and you still haven’t voted, vote anyway!
4. All problems are not voter fraud or vote suppression.
From 6am to 8pm eastern time, there is a humongous demand for news and no real supply until polls start to close, so the media try to fill the demand with stories about “problems” that exist at the polling place. Be skeptical. Just because there are lines at one downtown polling place at 7am doesn’t mean election officials weren’t prepared or that there is a problem. When you hear stories about machines “flipping votes,” recognize that this is not a systemic problem, but that the machines are sensitive and sometimes voters touch the wrong spot. Most importantly, the machines require voters to confirm their votes, so this accident is always caught before the ballot is cast, which is how we know about it at all! In almost every case, the problems that occur are not the result of dirty tricks or rigging, but rather an innocent mistake that gets resolved quickly by the professionals that run elections.
5. Election officials’ ingenuity will be on full display, and yet go largely unnoticed.
A presidential election is like no other event that takes place anywhere around the world. Election Day is a single day, a fourteen (or so) hour period, where tens of millions of our fellow citizens all go out and do the same thing all over the country. Election officials train hundreds of thousands of poll workers, find tens of thousands of appropriate and accessible voting locations, and process millions of ballots under intense scrutiny. No election is perfect, but it works as well as it does because of the efforts of state and local election administrators. And when problems occur, you’ll see the ingenuity and professionalism of the men and women who oversee elections in the oldest democracy on earth, rapidly responding to make sure that every citizen’s vote is counted.