WASHINGTON – Stock up on munchies and make sure the batteries in your TV remote are fresh. With this year's presidential election razor-close to the finish, Tuesday could be a long night.
Even if the presidency isn't decided until after midnight, there will be plenty of clues early in the evening on how things are going for President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney. Obama has more options for piecing together the 270 electoral votes needed for victory, so any early setbacks for Romney could be important portents of how the night will end.
Here's a timetable for armchair election watchers on how the night will unfold, based on what time the last polls close in each state. All times are EST.
7 p.m.: Polls close in six states, but all eyes will be on Virginia, the first of the battleground states to begin reporting results. If either candidate is comfortably ahead in Virginia, with 13 electoral votes, that could be a leading indicator of which way the night is going.
7:30 p.m.: Polls close in three states, including all-important Ohio (18 electoral votes) and competitive North Carolina (15).
Romney desperately needs Ohio; no Republican has won the presidency without it.
8 p.m.: More pieces of the puzzle will start falling into place as polls close in the District of Columbia and 16 states, including battlegrounds Florida (29) and New Hampshire (4).
9 p.m.: Polls close in 14 states, including battlegrounds Colorado (9) and Wisconsin (10). Democrats have carried Wisconsin for six straight presidential elections and Obama had the edge in polling going in, so a flip here would be especially noteworthy.
Two more to watch: Minnesota and Michigan. The states have been considered safe for Obama, but Republicans made late moves there.
10 p.m.: Polls close in four states, including the last of the battlegrounds, Iowa (6) and Nevada (6).
1 a.m. Wednesday: The last of the polls close, in Alaska. Romney gets 3 electoral votes.
On Tuesday, polls are open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.