BBC – The Editors: Election night – Earn Charter

So after more than a year of campaigning, it all comes down to this. On radio, TV and online, the BBC is gearing up for a big night – in English and 27 other languages. And not just one big night, but 51 separate contests.

Unlike most other countries, the US election is not a nationwide “popular poll”. Instead, the president is elected by an Electoral College of 538 delegates from each of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia. How many come from each, depends on their population. So as the votes pile up, it’s the way each state votes that will decide the election.

In most states, thanks to exit polls, it may be possible to project a result the moment the polls close. Working with our friends at ABC News, the BBC will “call” the results, state by state, based on those projections. In states that are too close to call, electronic voting will mean we’re able to follow the counting in real time, based on the number of voting precincts reporting.

The first real test will come at midnight GMT when polls close in six states. Virginia, with 13 electoral college votes, will be the first of the battle ground states to report. Half an hour later at 00:30 GMT, polls will also close in Ohio with its 18 votes and North Carolina with 15 votes. As the polls close, the BBC will call the result in each based on projections made by ABC News.

Using the results service on the BBC News website, you’ll be able to follow the same data driving the BBC’s results system on TV and radio. They will include the state results, the resultant change in the Electoral College vote, and will colour the state and national maps accordingly – red for Republican states, blue for Democrats.

The target for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney is to hit a figure of 270 – winning the majority of the 538 delegates to the Electoral College. Once one of the candidates passes the magic 270 total, this election will be over. Then – and only then – will the BBC call the election. A big night and, possibly, a long night beckons.

Jon Williams is world news editor.

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