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Trail Mix: What you need to know today

  • Key states to watch tonight
  • What could go wrong in Ohio, Florida
It might be hours, days or weeks before we know who won the election.

Want to know what's popping in campaign news? Meet our column "Trail Mix" -- your guide to the fun, the quirky, and, oh yeah, the news from the 2012 campaign.


It’s here – really. It’s finally here. All the ads, all the speeches, all the debates come down to a bunch of people showing up today and making their choice for president. We can’t guarantee we’ll actually know for sure what the nation’s choice will be by the end of tonight, we can prepare you for the next 24 hours (or maybe 48 hours or maybe 72 hours or maybe months) of political craziness:

The states to watch

Get comfy on your couch tonight, because you might be there a while. Sure, there will be a wave of states that the networks will call as soon as the polls close (it’ll be no big surprise when New York goes for Obama and Alabama goes for Romney). But if we’ve learned one thing over the past many months, it’s that there are only a precious few states that really matter. Here are the swingiest of swing states and when their polls close. Be warned, though, it could be hours after the polls close before anyone is willing to go out on a limb and predict a winner in each one.

7 p.m. – Virginia

7:30 p.m. – Ohio

8 p.m. – Florida and New Hampshire

9 p.m. – Colorado and Wisconsin

10 p.m. – Iowa and Nevada

Hour-by-hour guide to tonight

Want to play along at home? Or look like a superstar political pundit to your friends? Check out The Washington Post’s hour-by-hour breakdown of what happens when tonight. They list not only what’s expected in the president race in key states but also what’s happening in races for the gubernatorial, House and Senate races. Also included are important ballot initiatives, including several states voting on various versions of legalizing marijuana.

What’s the deal with those “provisional ballots” in Ohio?

The chance for the biggest delay is in Ohio – where law allows up to 10 days to determine the eligibility of provisional ballots. The delay allows local authorities to make sure voters haven’t voted both in person and by mail. In a state where polls show the margins are razor-thin, provisional ballots could make a huge difference, given that 200,000 or more of those ballots were filed four years ago.

And then there are the two pending lawsuits over both the provisional ballots and the software the state is using to coordinate the vote totals. Read about those here at CNN.

Remember 2000?

It’s not just Ohio that could keep us waiting for a president tomorrow. The Tampa Bay Times has helpfully compiled a list of “five things that could go wrong on Election Day in Florida.”

Among them: This is the longest ballot in Florida history which means it’s taking voters a long time to read it and causing delays in voting. This year is when many voters get assigned new voting precincts because of once-a-decade redistricting – but nobody knows how many will actually go to the correct location. And Florida also has concerns about provisional and absentee ballots. One of the things not on the list? Hanging chads.

Must Reads:

POLITICO: 5 Things to watch for tonight

CNN: 21 Key campaign moments

The Hill: Swing states snapshot



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