While many pundits (and average Americans) from across the ideological spectrum are counting the hours until Election Day arrives, Nov. 8 won't be the last we hear from the candidates. Judging by past presidential elections, we can expect the politicking and breathless exit-polling to go late into the night — if we're lucky. If the election is close or contested, the time you find out who wins the election could be later in the evening than usual.
In the most recent general election, where President Obama handily defeated Mitt Romney by earning 51.1 percent of the popular vote, most major networks had called the race for Obama by 11:30 p.m. EST, shortly after polls closed on the West Coast. Four years earlier, when Obama was first elected to the White House (by an even larger margin, winning 52.9 percent of the popular vote), major networks had declared Obama's historic victory official by 11 p.m. EST.
The Bush years, however, were marked by a notably less confident national press. Perhaps wary from the 2000 debacle where several networks prematurely named Al Gore the president-elect, most major networks in 2004 refused to call the race until the early morning of Nov. 3. NBC refused to announce a projected winner until Democratic candidate John Kerry called President Bush to concede the day after the election.
And then, of course, there was the 2000 election, where the outcome of the election was not made official until 36 days after the nation had voted. Florida's infamous "hanging chads" (ballots that had been partially or inaccurately filled out) left election officials trying to determine the "intent" of each voter, particularly those who'd cast absentee ballots from overseas.
At 3 a.m. EST on Nov. 8, 2000, former Vice President Al Gore called George W. Bush to concede the election, according to U.S. News and World Report. But within two hours, Bush's lead in Florida had shrunk to a razor-thin margin, triggering an automatic recount. The recount took place in fits and starts, amid constant scrutiny from national media and high-powered attorneys representing both candidates.
The confusion prompted no less than 47 separate lawsuits, and ultimately left the decision of who would be the next commander-in-chief in the hands of the Supreme Court.
Even after the Supreme Court held, in a 5-4 decision, that Bush had won the election, it wasn't until Dec. 13, 2000, that Gore officially ended the battle, saying he would not attempt to "renew the recount," according to Salon. Thus began eight years of President George W. Bush.
Of course, this campaign has been unlike any we've seen in modern U.S. history. From Donald Trump's promise to "keep you in suspense" about whether he'll accept the results of the election, to Clinton's never-ending email controversy, the past 16 months has worn down even the most seasoned political commentators.
With any luck, Election Day will deliver a resounding verdict — either because Clinton wins key swing states early, or, heaven forbid, Trump makes an unexpected comeback — and finally put us out of our misery. If history is any indication, though, the earliest any network will call the election will be shortly after 11 p.m. EST on Nov. 8. But given the endless twists and turns this election season has thrown at us, we might not have an official president-elect until days, or even weeks, after everyone has cast their ballots.