A poll worker walks away after helping a voter at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor on Election Day. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

Maine election results will begin flowing in shortly after the polls close at 8 p.m. They could indicate clear outcomes in the competitive U.S. Senate race and presidential race in the 2nd District or they could suggest the races are close and require a ranked-choice runoff.

This year’s election has looked different in many ways due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Maine is not expected to see large delays in reporting results. The Bangor Daily News’ election results page is here. Here is everything you need to know to follow along on election night.

In Maine, media outlets collect results from cities and towns and project outcomes.

All election results reported on Tuesday night will be unofficial. Media outlets obtain these unofficial results directly from cities and towns, which have two days to send final results to the Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office for certification. Only at that point are results official.

This means that what you see on election night is a large-scale newsgathering process. In Maine, the BDN and the Associated Press are the only media outlets that gather results from clerks independently. Because of that, our results will often look different than those of other Maine outlets as we put cities and towns into our systems at different times. The BDN reports races down to the local level across the state.

The AP and other organizations — including the BDN’s partner, Decision Desk HQ — use those results to typically project a winner before the unofficial count is complete. These outlets employ statisticians who consider a range of factors — including the size of a candidate’s lead and the partisan leanings of towns yet to report — before making a final projection when they are nearly certain that a result will not change. BDN editors sign off before they are made public.

These projections — called race calls — are accurate nearly 100 percent of the time. Of hundreds of races covered this year, the AP has retracted two calls to just one for Decision Desk HQ, according to Vox.

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In-person and absentee votes will generally be reported at the same time.

In other states, election analysts have raised concerns that initial election results might provide a misleading picture of overall results if municipalities count in-person votes before counting absentee or mail-in ballots. In Maine, that is unlikely to be a problem, as most towns will report absentee and in-person voting simultaneously on Tuesday night. Absentee ballots must be returned by 8 p.m. on Election Day — the same time polls close — to be counted.

The state has allowed cities and towns to start processing record shares of absentee ballots early beginning last week. As of Monday afternoon, 94.8 percent of absentee ballots were returned, suggesting towns are unlikely to receive a sudden Election Day rush that would substantially delay counting.

One exception is Portland, Maine’s largest city, which has seen more than 33,000 absentee ballot requests, including about 2,300 that have yet to be returned. The city will likely report its in-person votes prior to its absentee votes due to the increased volume.

Ranked-choice counts will delay outcomes, but we have taken steps to gauge the direction of those races.

Ranked-choice voting could come into play in the U.S. Senate and presidential races, since there are two independents on the ballot in the Senate race and three third-party candidates in the presidential race. Results on election night, however, only include first-choice votes.

If no candidate clears 50 percent in first-choice votes in either of those races, the state will collect ballots from all municipalities in order to perform a ranked-choice runoff in Augusta. That process could take at least a week, though we will put existing data to work before then.

The BDN is partnering with FairVote, an electoral reform group that supports ranked-choice voting, to better understand these races to produce a statistical model combining real first-round results with data on how Mainers ranked their choices in a recent SurveyUSA poll.

Once we are sure that one of these races is heading to a ranked-choice count, we will release percentage-wise estimates of the leading candidate’s chances to win the ultimate runoff. We will be conservative and careful in our wording and transparent about what we do and do not know.

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