POLITICO’s hour-by-hour guide to watching election night

When the polls fully close in the first handful of states on Tuesday, it won’t mark the finish line of the midterm elections.

Instead, it will be the start of a days-long process of tabulating the votes in many of the most important states, ultimately determining which party will control Congress next year and by what margins.

This is POLITICO’s hour-by-hour guide to the 2022 midterm elections — or, at least, to the start of them. We’ll outline all the big races as voting concludes from east to west, including where we expect to see the bulk of the votes counted on Tuesday night and where we expect to have to wait for the full picture.

6 p.m. (All times Eastern)

Parts of Indiana and Kentucky

Polls close in most of Indiana and Kentucky (the majority of residents in both states reside in the Eastern Time Zone). But the only competitive contest — one rated as “Lean Democratic,” “Lean Republican” or “Toss Up” — in either state is a House seat based in Northwest Indiana, where the polls remain open an hour later.

Key races: None

7 p.m.

All of Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vermont, VirginiaParts of Florida and New Hampshire

The big state closing at 7 p.m. is Georgia, where voting will finish in the Senate race between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker. Georgia should count the vast majority of its votes on Tuesday night — but that doesn’t guarantee the race in the tightly divided state will be called. If the result is very close — or if the leader is hovering around the 50-percent-plus-one needed to clinch a victory outright — it will make it more difficult to project.

Four years ago, the elections of now-Reps. Elaine Luria, Abigail Spanberger and Jennifer Wexton in Virginia signaled a rough night for Donald Trump’s GOP. This year, Luria and Spanberger are locked in tight races: Luria’s Tidewater district is rated “Lean Republican,” while Spanberger is in a “Toss Up” contest. Wexton is a bit safer — President Joe Biden carried her Northern Virginia seat by more than 18 points in 2020 — but a close race there would presage a bad election for Democrats elsewhere.

Polls also close at 7 p.m. in the vast majority of Florida, a fast-counting state where we’ll get clues about the magnitude of Republicans’ likely victories. Could Gov. Ron DeSantis defy the state’s penchant for close elections and win a blowout that catapults him into a presidential campaign?

Key races: Georgia Senate (Election Forecast rating: Toss Up), Georgia governor (Lean Republican), Georgia-02 (Lean Democratic), Indiana-01 (Lean Democratic), Virginia-02 (Lean Republican), Virginia-07 (Toss Up)

7:30 p.m.

All of North Carolina, Ohio and West VirginiaParts of New Hampshire

Republicans spent much of the summer and fall pouring money into holding open Senate seats in North Carolina and Ohio. Late polls suggest GOP nominees Ted Budd and J.D. Vance, respectively, have opened up significant leads.

If Budd and Vance win going away, that’s good news for Republicans elsewhere. But if the races are tight, it would mean Democrats could hold their own in more friendly territory.

Key races: North Carolina Senate (Lean Republican), North Carolina-06 (Lean Democratic), North Carolina-13 (Toss Up), Ohio Senate (Lean Republican), Ohio-09 (Lean Democratic), Ohio-13 (Toss Up)

8 p.m.

All of Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and TennesseeParts of Kansas, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota and Texas

The busiest poll-closing time is 8 p.m. Eastern, when voting ends in all of 16 states and parts of 5 more.

Pennsylvania is the biggest prize, with its “Toss Up” Senate race and a handful of hyper-competitive House races. But it’s unlikely enough votes will be tallied in Pennsylvania on Tuesday night to project winners in the closest contests: In 2020, the election-night vote count misleadingly favored Republicans, and only 82 percent of the state’s votes had been reported by noon the day after the election.

Polls will finally close in a handful of straggling New Hampshire towns at 8 p.m., though it will take well into the night before we know who won the “Toss Up” Senate race between Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan and Republican Don Bolduc. We could, however, get an immediate call at 8 p.m. for GOP Gov. Chris Sununu’s reelection — he’s heavily favored to cruise to another two-year term, which is a big reason why Bolduc has been hitching his wagon to the popular governor for the final week of his race.

There are four competitive House races in Illinois, where Democrats drew the new congressional map for maximum partisan advantage — but their gerrymander could wilt in the face of a significant GOP wave election.

Keep your eye on five New England House races for signs of a GOP comeback there: the reelection bids of Democratic Reps. Jahana Hayes (Conn.), Jared Golden (Maine), Chris Pappas (N.H.) and Ann McLane Kuster (N.H.), in addition to an open seat in Rhode Island. (Golden’s race, a 2018 rematch with former GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin, may not be resolved until a ranked-choice tabulation next week.)

Key races: Connecticut governor (Lean Democratic), Connecticut-05 (Toss Up), Illinois-06 (Lean Democratic), Illinois-13 (Lean Democratic), Illinois-14 (Lean Democratic), Illinois-17 (Toss Up), Maine governor (Lean Democratic), Maine-02 (Toss Up), New Hampshire Senate (Toss Up), New Hampshire-01 (Toss Up), New Hampshire-02 (Lean Democratic), New Jersey-03 (Lean Democratic), New Jersey-07 (Lean Republican), Pennsylvania Senate (Toss Up), Pennsylvania-07 (Toss Up), Pennsylvania-08 (Toss Up), Pennsylvania-12 (Lean Democratic), Pennsylvania-17 (Toss Up), Rhode Island-02 (Toss Up), Michigan-03 (Lean Democratic), Michigan-07 (Toss Up), Michigan-08 (Lean Democratic), Texas-15 (Lean Republican), Texas-28 (Lean Democratic), Texas-34 (Toss Up)

8:30 p.m.

All of Arkansas

Arkansas has 8:30 p.m. (or 7:30 p.m. local time) to itself. There’s nothing competitive here — Republicans gerrymandered the state’s only borderline contested congressional seat out of existence in redistricting — but former Trump White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, is all-but-certain to clinch the governorship, which was once held by her father, Mike Huckabee.

Key races: None

9 p.m.

All of Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin, WyomingSome of Arizona

Wisconsin is the most consequential state closing at 9 p.m. Eastern, with “Toss Up” races for Senate and governor. While it could take past sunrise to count the votes, we do expect both to be resolved by Wednesday, barring photo finishes that require recounts.

Polls will close at the same time across the border in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, which could mean a projection in the state’s closely watched abortion-rights referendum. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s race against Republican Tudor Dixon is likely going to take hours more to resolve.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is locked in a tighter-than-expected race against Republican Lee Zeldin, and it’s highly unlikely Hochul will get the immediate winning call at 9 p.m. the way her predecessor, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, did four years ago.

Moreover, Hochul’s softness at the top of the ticket could imperil Democrats down the ballot for Congress, including Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the chair of House Democrats’ campaign arm, in the Hudson Valley. Eight of New York’s 26 congressional districts are rated as competitive, and only 2 of them are currently held by Republicans, who have room to grow.

Other than Wisconsin, the only other competitive Senate race ending at 9 p.m. is in Colorado. Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet leads there, but national Republicans like their nominee, Joe O'Dea.

Republicans are also hoping to make inroads in Minnesota. While Democratic Gov. Tim Walz is the favorite over Republican Scott Jensen, the GOP is in the hunt to knock off Democratic Rep. Angie Craig, state Attorney General Keith Ellison and Secretary of State Steve Simon. (Simon’s GOP opponent, Kim Crockett, has criticized Simon’s administration of the 2020 election and refused to acknowledge Biden’s victory in Minnesota.)

In the Midwest and Great Plains, there are a bunch of other close House races: three in Iowa that all lean red, one in Kansas, three in Michigan and one in Nebraska. Whether moderate GOP Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) can survive in a blue-trending Omaha district is one of the night’s biggest questions.

Polls will finally close in far West Texas, including El Paso, the hometown of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke — who could be declared the loser against GOP Gov. Greg Abbott as soon as the top of the hour arrives, depending on the margin of Abbott’s likely victory.

And across the border in New Mexico, Republicans are aiming to unseat Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and hold onto one of their endangered House seats.

Key races: Colorado Senate (Lean Democratic), Colorado-07 (Lean Democratic), Colorado-08 (Lean Republican), Iowa-01 (Lean Republican), Iowa-02 (Lean Republican), Iowa-03 (Lean Republican), Kansas governor (Toss Up), Kansas-03 (Lean Democratic), Michigan governor (Lean Democratic), Michigan secretary of state (No rating), Minnesota governor (Lean Democratic), Minnesota state attorney general (No rating), Minnesota secretary of state (No rating), Minnesota-02 (Toss Up), Nebraska-02 (Toss Up), New Mexico governor (Lean Democratic), New Mexico-02 (Toss Up), New Mexico-03 (Lean Democratic), New York governor (Lean Democratic), New York-01 (Lean Republican), New York-03 (Lean Democratic), New York-04 (Lean Democratic), New York-17 (Toss Up), New York-18 (Lean Democratic), New York-19 (Toss Up), New York-22 (Toss Up), New York-25 (Lean Democratic), Wisconsin Senate (Toss Up), Wisconsin governor (Toss Up)

10 p.m.

All of Arizona, Montana, Nevada, UtahParts of Idaho and Oregon

Two western states, Arizona and Nevada, take center stage at 10 p.m. Eastern.

Each has a Democratic senator locked in a “Toss Up” race — Sens. Mark Kelly and Catherine Cortez Masto, respectively. Each has a “Toss Up” governor’s race. Each has a Republican nominee for secretary of state who denies Biden legitimately won the 2020 election.

It’s also quite possible that most races in both states are still unresolved by daybreak Wednesday. The vote count in Arizona, where most ballots are cast by mail or drop-box, could very well take days. In Nevada, the election is largely conducted via the mail, and ballots can arrive as late as Saturday, as long as they’re postmarked by Tuesday.

Key races: Arizona Senate (Toss Up), Arizona governor (Toss Up), Arizona-01 (Lean Republican), Arizona-02 (Lean Republican), Arizona-04 (Lean Democratic), Arizona-06 (Lean Republican), Arizona state attorney general (No rating), Arizona secretary of state (No rating), Nevada Senate (Toss Up), Nevada governor (No rating), Nevada-01 (Toss Up), Nevada-03 (Toss Up), Nevada-04 (Lean Democratic), Nevada secretary of state (No rating)

11 p.m.

All of California, Idaho, Oregon, Washington

Polls will be closed across all of the 48 contiguous states at 11 p.m. Eastern, with the final contested statewide race coming in Oregon.

A credible-but-fading independent candidate and widespread disapproval of term-limited Democratic Gov. Kate Brown has fueled a competitive race for governor, with Democrat Tina Kotek and Republican Christine Drazan seen as neck-and-neck. Independent Betsy Johnson, who was once garnering upwards of 20 percent in the polls, has faded toward single digits, scrambling the math for both Kotek and Drazan, who is seeking to become the first Republican elected governor in Oregon in 40 years.

Meanwhile, House Republicans are hoping their wave reaches the Pacific Ocean: They’re plotting to flip three races in Oregon alone, with another four Democratic-held seats up for grabs in California and one in Washington State.

But temper your expectations about results: All three of those states conduct elections entirely or mostly by mail, and it could take a week or more to resolve the closest races.

Key races: California-09 (Lean Democratic), California-13 (Lean Republican), California-22 (Toss Up), California-27 (Lean Republican), California-45 (Lean Republican), California-47 (Lean Democratic), California-49 (Toss Up), Oregon governor (Toss Up), Oregon-04 (Lean Democratic), Oregon-05 (Lean Republican), Oregon-06 (Toss Up), Washington-08 (Toss Up)


All of HawaiiParts of Alaska

Hawaii is picking a new governor to replace term-limited Democrat David Ige. The lieutenant governor, Josh Green, is seen as the favorite.

Key races: None

1 a.m.

All of Alaska

The final polls to close are in the Aleutian Islands, bringing an end to voting in this year’s midterms.

Alaska’s Senate race is rated “Solid Republican,” but that doesn’t mean it lacks for drama. GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski is facing a stiff challenge from Trump-backed opponent Kelly Tshibaka, who has taken issue with the incumbent’s moderate votes, including to convict the former president in his impeachment trial last year.

Then there’s the state’s lone congressional seat, which — after the results of a special election in August — is now represented by a Democrat for the first time in roughly 50 years. Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola is looking to replicate her victory over Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich in the general election.

But both the Senate and House races may take a while to resolve. Alaska’s vast land mass and remote settlements makes it slow to count the vote, and its new four-candidate, ranked-choice general elections mean it could take weeks if races lack majority winners.

The ranked-choice tabulations, if necessary, are scheduled for the day before Thanksgiving.

Key races: Alaska-At-Large (Lean Democratic)