No winner on election night?
It has been a long tradition for US television networks to call projected winners on election night as results trickle in -- but the unique circumstances of 2020 are likely to create numerous challenges to that practice.
In preparing for election night, some top US television news executives see a cautionary tale in a notorious November evening two decades ago.
After major networks projected Al Gore the winner in the crucial state of Florida, they pivoted in the wee hours to calling his Republican rival George W Bush the next president. The margin was so slim, Gore conceded, then took it back an hour later. The election wouldn't be decided for more than a month. The only loss that night was the networks' credibility.
"Decision desks" set up by media outlets to project winners of each state, which will determine the presidential race, are gearing up for a complicated election night amid uncertain timing for counting of mail-in and absentee ballots and fears about premature claims of victory.
More than 60m Americans has voted by mail. More than half of all mail-in ballots have come from Democrats, according to data from states like Florida, North Carolina and New Mexico where people register by party affiliation. Less than a quarter have been Republican.
Some fear an early tally based on votes cast in person on election day may prompt President Donald Trump to claim victory before absentee and mailed ballots are counted, opening up the potential for chaos.
In separate interviews with Reuters about their plans for election night, top executives at five major US news networks described a focus on restraint, not speed; on transparency about what remains unknown; and on a reassuring message that slow results don't signify a crisis.
Since the 2000 election, Florida has adopted many measures including allowing counties to start processing votes about a month before Election Day. In 2018, the state made quick work of tallying up two major statewide races for governor and Senate that were decided by less than 1 percentage point.
And many states and counties have heard the message too and adapted processes, put in additional infrastructure, and are working hard to accurately count these large numbers of mail-in ballots quickly.
That does not mean we are in the clear. Trump famously won in 2016 on the strength of fewer than 78,000 votes combined in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Unlike Florida, officials in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania cannot start counting votes until election night and in Michigan, they cannot start until the day before the election.
The issue has received a lot of media coverage about the potential that the country will not know who wins on Election Day. That seems to be sinking in with the public, too, with a recent poll finding two-thirds of voters do not expect to know who will win on the night of the election.