US election day: everything you need to know
Interactive: Where is the count at? See the live results, state by state
There is light at the end of the US presidential election campaign tunnel.
Polls opened Tuesday, 4pm AEDT and from then the electoral ball will keep rolling until either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is declared the next president of the United States of America.
Here’s how the day is likely to pan out:
Tuesday, 4pm AEDT:
Polls opened in the tiny town of Dixville Notch, New Hampshire – midnight their time – the first polling booth to open at the end of a long-running election campaign.
Clay Smith is the first voter to cast the ballot in the US presidential election, in the small village of Dixville Notch, New Hampshire. (AAP)
Tuesday, 10pm AEDT:
Other polls on the east coast of America start opening between 6am or 7am local time.
But Americans aren’t just voting for their next president on Tuesday, November 8. They are also voting for congressmen, senators, governors, mayors and many other local officials.
“It’s really 51 separate elections, including 50 states and the District of Columbia,” James Cahill, deputy editor of the University of Melbourne’s Election Watch, told SBS News.
Wednesday, 11am AEDT:
Polls on the east coast of America will start closing at 11am from half-a-dozen different states.
“Each state can set its own times, so some close at 6pm, some close at 8pm.”
Mr Cahill said there are also 13 states that have different poll closing times because they stretch over two different time zones.
Wednesday, 11.30am – 12.30pm AEDT:
The polls in several key states close, including North Carolina, Ohio and Florida, three big swing states that both candidates need to win in their march to the White House.
Mr Cahill told SBS News these states are particularly key for Mr Trump.
“If he loses any of those [states] it’s pretty much over,” he said.
“Between 11am and 12pm four key swing states close. If they are real nail-biters and they’re really close they won’t call them.”
Polls for other key battleground states including Pennsylvania, Virginia and the important New Hampshire also close around this time.
Wednesday 1pm – 3pm AEDT:
The polls in more key states like Colorado, Wisconsin and Texas close between 1pm and 3pm Australian time.
They also shut in Nevada, which could become a key battleground if Trump manages to win some early swing states, Mr Cahill said.
If the count is close up until this time it could force the country to wait until after Nevada closes before a clear winner is identified.
When will we have a winner?
Mr Cahill said counting in some states begins as soon as the voting ends, while in others it starts even before the doors close.
He said when a state was called for one candidate or another “all depends on how close the state is”.
“If a state is deep red or deep blue within five minutes [of the polls closing] they’ll call it,” he said.
“Or they’ll know that if a Democrat wins that particular country they’ll win the state, and vice versa.
“When the count goes on longer you know it’s a close state.”
Some pundits have suggested the election could all be over as early as 9pm US eastern time (1pm AEDT).
The election is often declared when a major media network declares a winner.
In previous presidential elections this has been as early as 8pm and as late as 11am the next day.
Mr Cahill said if the early states fall Mrs Clinton’s way she could claim victory as early as 10pm or 11pm, US east coast time, about 2pm or 3pm AEDT.
What if the election results are close?
If the initial counting results are close the process continues until all the votes, including any late postal votes, are counted.
Some states have automatic recount triggers when votes are separated by only one per cent or half a per cent, while other states eschew recounts unless the challenger pays for them.
How US presidential election voting works
Close results can also end up in court challenges which can drag the process out even longer.
However, Mr Cahill said all challenges and recounts must be finished by December when the electoral college electors cast their ballots to officially elect the president of the United States.
What happens if the winner is clear?
If Mrs Clinton wins, as she is still predicted to, she will claim victory as early as Tuesday night, US eastern time, or the next morning if the count takes longer than expected.
She is holding her election evening event at the Jacob K Javits Convention Centre in New York – a highly symbolic venue that includes a dramatic glass ceiling.
It is a large event that will include plenty of supporters and media and will be followed by another gathering near the Hudson River.
Mr Trump is also holding his event in New York at the New York Hilton Midtown.
It will be an invitation-only event, which Mr Cahill said would give him the opportunity to control who would be there and what the media would be able to cover.
So when will the new president start work?
The new president will not be officially inaugurated until noon on January 20 in a ceremony at the White House.
Until then, Barack Obama remains the president and will assist in the transition to the new administration.
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