I tried to Google this and couldn’t – how many people live in places where the polls close tonight at time X, for each possible value of X? You can easily find a map of closing times, for example at 270towin.com:
But how many people do each of those colors represent?The Green Papers has a nice table of poll closing times. The wrinkle is that in a state with multiple time zones, there are two possibilities:
- polls close at the same clock time across the state. For example, in Florida, polls close at 7:00 PM everywhere in the state… as we learned in 2000 when it was called for Democrats before polls in the Panhandle (the westernmost part of the state, the only part on Central time, and a heavily Republican area) had closed. This is the method in Alaska, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Texas.
- polls close at the same real time across the state. This is what Nebraska does (8 Central / 7 Mountain) and Tennessee (8 Eastern / 7 Central).
As it turns out, in most places the polls close at 7 or 8 local time, and those represent about equal numbers of people. The exceptions are:
- Kentucky and Indiana (6 pm local)
- North Carolina, Ohio, West Virginia, and Arkansas: 7:30 pm local
- New York and North Dakota: 9 pm local. (Is there anything else New York and North Dakota have in common?)
The overall distribution is in the chart below.
And in Eastern-time terms, the distribution is:
Both of these charts and the underlying data are at this Google spreadsheet.
This should be familiar to people who make a habit of watching the election returns roll in… you get the first substantial votes at 7, a big chunk at 8, and they trickle in over the rest of the night. (In presidential years the 11:00 chunk isn’t as interesting as you’d expect from its volume – the only polls closing at 11 are California, Oregon, Washington, and small portions of North Dakota and Idaho, and if any of those states are competitive the election as a whole is not.)
Too small to show on the chart is the polls that close at 1 AM. Those are the polls that close at 8 PM (Hawaii-)Aleutian time (UTC-10, five hours behind Eastern time), in that part of the Aleutian Islands of Alaska west of 169° 30′ W longitude. In terms of populated places it looks like this is a really long-winded way of saying Adak. Adak has 326 people. The biggest settlement in the Aleutians, Unalaska, is only at 166° 32′ W and is therefore in UTC-9, “Alaska time”. Brian Brettschneider, Alaska-based climatologist, called out Adak in 2016:
The last voting location to close in the U.S. is at the Adak, Alaska, school. #akelect pic.twitter.com/a7ZyXa1c9R— Brian Brettschneider (@Climatologist49) November 8, 2016
and at least a cursory look at a list of Alaska polling places suggests there are two in the Aleutians, “Aleutians No. 1” in Adak and “Aleutians No. 2” in Unalaska. It seems quite reasonable that there is only one polling place, the one in Adak, that closes at 1 AM Eastern. This oddity has been mentioned before, in 2012 and 2016, in both cases by local sources. In 2016 five people voted after 8 PM Alaska / 7 PM Aleutian (midnight Eastern).
Not that anything will be called in Alaska when the polls close… Alaska uses ranked-choice voting, so it’ll take a while to count the votes anyway.