Briefing

How to follow the 2022 midterm election results — and what to expect

Everything you need to know about the voting process in the midterms

The 2022 midterms are upon us, and control of Congress hangs in the balance at a precarious time of deep political division. Here's everything you need to know about how the voting process could play out on Election Day:

What might be different at the polls this year?

Since the last presidential election, some "new voting procedures and political dynamics" have come into play, notes The Associated Press. For example, voters may notice some polling-place staff shortages, thanks to the "punishing stream of death threats, harassment, and misinformation" directed at election workers in the wake of the 2020 presidential election. But perhaps reassuringly, increased concerns about political violence have prompted many polling places to boost security to better protect both voters and staff, CNN says. Voters casting their ballot via drop box — a practice that has become a point of extreme partisan contention in recent years — may also notice increased security, as ordered by law enforcement officials thanks to "vigilante ballot security measures". This is particularly likely in states where the outcome of the 2020 election was disputed. In Georgia, for instance, "officials have set up a poll worker response team — a group of people dedicated to looking into reports about incidents that interrupt the midterms," Politico reports.

A number of election laws prohibit voter discrimination or intimidation based on "race, color, national origin, religion, or language," AP explains, adding that any voters who encounter violence, discrimination, or intimidation at their polling place should contact 911, then the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. For general assistance or procedural help, voters can dial the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline, "which connects voters with individuals who can provide guidance when encountering problems at the polls." 

Where can I find election coverage?

Minor 2020 celebrity Steve Kornacki will be back at the Big Board for MSNBC on election night, with coverage hosted by anchors Rachel Maddow, Nicolle Wallace, and Joy Reid starting at 6 p.m. ET. ("Viewers can keep up with Kornacki … with the return of the Kornacki Cam streaming at MSNBC.com," according to AdWeek).

Streamer NBC Now will begin its election broadcast at 6 p.m.; NBC Nightly News will join in for network coverage beginning at 8 p.m. CBS News will provide reporting and "in-depth analysis" across all of its platforms on Election Day, with special election night network coverage from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET. ABC News will do similarly throughout the day, with full network coverage beginning at 7 p.m. with David Muir's World News Tonight.

CNN's Jake Tapper and Anderson Cooper will begin their coverage at 4 p.m., with John King, among other usual network suspects, providing analysis from the CNN Magic Wall, Deadline notes. Fox News' Democracy 2022: Election Night will begin at 6 p.m. ET and will be co-anchored by Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum; overnight coverage anchored by Trace Gallagher will start at 1 a.m.

For official race calls, The Associated Press has historically been the outlet to watch. And for those interested in a bit of extra credit before the big day, the NBC News Political Unit has shared its 2022 elections bible, which the network's anchors and field reporters use to better understand the scope and stakes of the election.

When will the races be called?

It depends on the state. It's very likely the results won't be clear on Tuesday night, thanks to local rules, "the pace of ballot counting (including mail-in and absentee ballots), potential automatic recounts, and potential challenges to the results," the Post says. Delays are especially likely in battleground states like Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Arizona, where already-tight races and state-specific election laws add a layer of complication to the tallying process. 

In Georgia, for example, where Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) is seeking re-election against Republican challenger Herschel Walker, a candidate "must receive at least 50 percent of the vote (plus one vote) to win," the Post explains. It's likely neither Warnock nor Walker will reach that threshold, so a December runoff is expected. And in Pennsylvania, where mail-in votes can't be counted until after Nov. 8, the process could drag on for days. In Arizona, the state's GOP-led legislation "eased the threshold for an automatic recount to 0.5 percent after the 2020 election, making a recount more likely," the Post writes. Voters might also expect delays out of Wisconsin, California, Oregon, Alaska, and Maine. "The concept of Election Day is a bit of a misnomer," the Brookings Institution's Norm Eisen told the Post.  "It's really better to speak of the election period or the election cycle." 

The reporting gap could create a so-called "red mirage," or the illusion of a Republican lead, which in some battleground states might dissipate as mail-in ballots are counted. The phenomenon stems not from nefarious election activity but rather a "partisan divide" in favored voting methods, explains The New York Times: "Democrats continue to cast far more mail ballots that Republicans do," and until those ballots are counted, it might look like the GOP has pulled ahead.

Will the results be contested?

It's very likely. Some Republican candidates have already signaled they might not accept the results of their races. Experts are concerned the "red mirage" and the accompanying delay in official results might bolster claims of election fraud and denial: "In 2020, it had a big impact on the way that the election was perceived and sort of provided a window for disinformation and conspiracy theories," Sean Morales-Doyle, the director of the voting rights program at the Brennan Center for Justice, told the Times. "And I think that there's a risk of that happening again in some places in 2022." 

Ultimately, writes The Associated Press, "not knowing the winner on election night says nothing about the fairness of an election or the accuracy of results."

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