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How And When To Expect Election Results

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It has been nine months in the making. Back on February 3, the Iowa caucuses kicked off the official start of the presidential campaign season. And it may end tonight, or it may not. Before today, Election Day, more than a hundred million Americans had already voted, which means we are in for an interesting night of counting. Joining us to explain what to expect is NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro.

Hey, Domenico. Happy Election Day.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there, Mary Louise. Finally, here we are.

KELLY: Finally.

MONTANARO: Yep.

KELLY: (Laughter) We made it. The only thing I know at this point is that everybody just wants to know who's going to win. We're hard-wired to want to know that. Will we know tonight?

MONTANARO: Including the president, by the way, who'd like to know tonight. Look. Well, if the election is not very close, we might know tonight who'll win when all the votes are eventually counted. Now, we will not know what the final vote count is, and that is totally normal, I want to stress for people. You know, the AP, which has been reporting election returns in U.S. presidential elections since 1848, went back and found that there has never been a presidential election in which all the votes are counted on election night - so something to keep in mind.

KELLY: OK. Pull back the curtain a little bit on how we're going to proceed tonight. How will NPR make the call?

MONTANARO: Right. Well, we ourselves don't have a decision desk here, so we're not going to be making the calls in-house. We'll be relying on the Associated Press to make those calls. In addition to raw vote, they're going to be relying on a new system they've created called VoteCast. These are not exit polls, we need to stress. They are massive pre-election polls conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. More - about 140,000 people going to be surveyed throughout the country. That is huge because about a thousand people in most national surveys is a good, rigorous poll.

They won't be relying on VoteCast alone. They look at historical trends for how states have gone in key precincts as well. They'll look at raw vote, of course, in those key states and key precincts. And we should also note they do not make projections. They make calls. So you won't hear us on air, like other broadcast networks, say, AP is projecting. They wait until a candidate, they say, has no path to win the remaining vote. And that's interesting because given how seriously they take that, AP still has not called Florida from the 2000 election.

(LAUGHTER)

KELLY: Hopefully it won't take quite two decades.

(LAUGHTER)

KELLY: Let me ask you this because no matter how much you tell us, be cautious, you know, temper your expectations, we'll know when we know, there will be, you know, early news and little...

MONTANARO: Yeah.

KELLY: ...Tantalizing tidbits coming out. Will there be anything to divine from those?

MONTANARO: Maybe. I'm watching North Carolina, Florida and Arizona, which are expected to count votes quickly because they're allowed to process mail-in votes before the election, unlike other states like Pennsylvania and Nevada, which had to wait until today. But I'm also going to be looking closely at early poll-close states, particularly Virginia, which closes at 7 p.m. That's not expected to be a close state this year. Biden's up by an average of 12 points in the polls. But I want to see, does that hold? If that holds, we could very well learn something about the rest of the night.

KELLY: And let me double-check with you something that Pam Fessler was just telling us, which is that so far - knock on wood, she said - but so far, so good - no major disruptions, no irregularities. Does that square with your reporting?

MONTANARO: Yeah. There have been some minor things today, like North Carolina - four precincts there that, you know, have had some technical issues. And they're going to be staying open until 8:15, so we won't quite get election results at 7:30 the way we thought we would get with North Carolina as far as a close for polls being able to be called. So that's just a little bit there. And then there've been these reports of robocalls around the country telling people not to vote. But the government agency that oversees this said, look; that is the kind of thing that happens every election, so keep calm and vote on.

KELLY: OK. Final key question, Domenico - what election snacks do you have on standby...

MONTANARO: (Laughter).

KELLY: ...To get you through the night?

MONTANARO: I actually - that's funny. I do have some snacks in a bag back here. There's a couple things of potato chips, some trail mix. We'll see how we mix it up...

KELLY: (Laughter).

MONTANARO: ...As the night goes along, Mary Louise.

KELLY: OK. That is NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro.

I know you're in your element. Have fun tonight.

MONTANARO: All right. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.