Signs of a Biden win: Let’s suppose that Mr. Biden didn’t win Florida and North Carolina, which we more or less ought to know by 10 p.m. First, we’re going to want to see if he has a big lead in the Arizona early vote. He ought to have one. Then all eyes on the Midwest — and especially Wisconsin and Ohio. Here, we’re looking for early signs of strength for Mr. Biden. In Ohio, we’re focused on the completed counties; in Wisconsin, we’re trying to take a broad, aggregate view of all the counties without centralized absentee precincts. If Mr. Biden’s doing far better than Hillary Clinton did in 2016 in mostly white rural areas, that might be all we need to know. We’ll also have to keep a special eye on the counties in Appalachian eastern Ohio, for some hints on Pennsylvania.
Signs of a Trump win: First, did Mr. Trump keep it close in the Arizona early vote? That would be a good sign for him. Then all eyes are on these mostly white Midwestern counties, especially those that have counted all of their vote. The president needs to match his 2016 tallies — or more. If the polls are right, he’ll fare far worse. If they’re wrong, we’ll know — even if we’re not yet sure whether he’ll squeak it out again.
Tips on these states:
Iowa: Iowa is usually fairly straightforward. Officials count most votes quickly, and they usually count the early votes first — so Mr. Biden might get out to an early lead. Either way, we shouldn’t have to wait too long before receiving a clear picture. A close race would be a bad sign for Mr. Trump.
Nevada: It used to be straightforward, but mail voting will complicate this one a bit, too. We should get basically all of the early votes and at least the Clark County (Las Vegas) absentee vote pretty quickly. Then we’ll wait for them to count the rest — which could take well into the early-morning hours in the East. And even when that’s done, there will still be late mail ballots to count: The state accepts ballots that arrive through Nov. 10.
11 p.m. Eastern
No battleground poll closings.
What to watch. In 2016, this was around the time that Mr. Trump was the projected winner in Ohio and Iowa. If he has any shot of a breakthrough in the more competitive Midwestern battlegrounds, he ought to be in a similar spot.
It’s also about the time I’ll be peeking a bit more at Pennsylvania and Michigan. Yes, Mr. Trump probably has a big lead at this point. But are there any counties that seem to have gotten through their mail absentee votes? I’d guess some are wrapping up.
Signs of a Biden win: We’re still assuming that Mr. Biden hasn’t been called the winner in North Carolina or Florida, though that’s possible at this stage — even in a tightly fought race. Either way, most of our attention remains on the Midwest, and Mr. Biden would be outrunning Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 performance by a wide margin in completed counties in Iowa and Ohio. There probably won’t be a call in either state.