SHAFAQNA – Depending on your time zone, you may want to forego tea, dinner or even breakfast plans if you are expecting to glue yourself to the results of America’s elections on Tuesday, 8 November.
How long a TV-gaping marathon we will endure will depend, of course, on how close a race it turns out to be. A decisive win for either Donald Trump (Republican) or Hillary Clinton (Democrat) could mean that by midnight on the eastern US seaboard – 5 am GMT – we could already have a result.
Both candidates are expected to hold their election night parties – or wakes – in New York City, so we’ll take our timings from there.
5pm EST (10pm GMT)
Exit pollsters will start feeding results to TV networks at this point, though they will be limited in what they tell us so as not to risk influencing those still voting across the nation.
Since 2003, exit polling has been conducted in the US on behalf of major networks by the centralised Edison Research organisation. Including early voters, it will sample the views of roughly 100,000 Americans, and feed us early information on what motivated Republicans and Democrats to vote one way or another at the ballot box.
7pm EST (Midnight GMT)
Among the first states to close all of their polling stations will be Indiana and Kentucky at 7pm eastern, though victories in both states by Mr Trump would not tell us very much. (If he loses them, that would be a different thing, however). Exit polls will give us predications for how these states are likely to have voted, after which the actual results will start coming in thick and fast.
But watch out. Florida, where Mr Trump has to prevail if he is to hold open a path to final victory also finishes voting at 7pm. That assumes, as in every state, there are no problems on voting day, like misbehaving voting machines (or misbehaving humans), which could prompt extensions of voting hours, as sometimes happens.
Two things also to keep in mind. Little by way exit polling information will be released while the final outcome is still in the balance, to avoid influencing how people vote in the West. Also, ballots are counted precinct by precinct and it may take some states longer than others to provide enough final data to allow the TV networks to project a winner in each of them.
The Sunshine State offers a whopping 29 votes in the Electoral College. Remember, whoever reaches 270 votes in the College will be the next president. Half an hour after Florida comes North Carolina, another battleground state. A victory there for Mr Trump would be significant also. But Ohio also closes at that hour. As with Florida, a loss in Ohio, with 18 College votes, could doom Trump.
8pm EST (1am GMT)
Once we get to the 8pm hour, the results should start coming in thick and fast with a swathe of states closing their polling stations, including Pennsylvania, where any sign of a Trump win could also influence the night, as well as Texas, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Maryland.
Keep an eye particularly on Pennsylvania, and if you want to drill down to county level, watch out for the populous Philadelphia suburbs — places like Bucks and Chester Counties. If Ms Clinton is able to win big there, it will be very hard to see Mr Trump doing enough elsewhere to take the state.
9pm EST (2am GMT)
One hour later, we will start hearing from some of those states in the middle of the country where the race has been fierce, for instance Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. New York shuts up shop then also but a loss there for Ms Clinton would indeed be a shock.
If, on the other hand, Ms Clinton is heading for a historically sweeping victory, we should start to know by this stage.
The demographics will tell us a lot in Arizona, a traditionally Republican state that has become a big swing player in this election. The growing share of Latinos here could flip it blue – but we may have to wait until the end of the hour to find out, as Arizona tends to declare its votes around then.
10pm EST (3am GMT)
Iowa is a latecomer, and if he is doing very well might be the pick of Mr Trump’s swing state. At 10 pm we could also start hearing results from Nevada, another key state where the race for overall control of the Senate could be decided.
Even if we have already known the result for a while by this point, it is worth keeping an eye on what happens in Utah, where Evan McMullin could become the first third-party candidate to take a state since 1968.
11pm EST (4am GMT)
Those with stamina will then await results from western states like California at 11 pm and, at the very end, Alaska (a sure Republican stronghold) at midnight.
But by then, the outcome may already be known. But then again it might not. A very, very close election, or even a very tight loss by Mr Trump followed by some kind of challenge from him, could well take us into the next day. Or even beyond were we to get a repeat of the disputed results of the 2000 elections, thanks to Florida and its hanging chads. That year, nothing was settled for another 36 days.