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Presidential election: How soon will someone win so we can go to sleep? (+video)

Polls close in six Eastern states at 7 p.m. If the networks call Virginia quickly for Obama, it could be an early sign of victory. But don't expect speedy presidential election results in battleground Ohio, where provisional ballots could make for a long night.

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Again, it’s unlikely these states produce clear winners right off. But Romney has to have Florida and its 29 electoral votes. If Obama wins there, it’s time for some bedtime reading. Conversely, Pennsylvania and its 20 electoral votes is, or was, supposed to be safe Democratic territory. Romney is now contesting that, and he had a big closing rally in Pittsburgh. If this doesn’t fall fairly quickly into the Democratic category, they’ll start to sweat at Obama headquarters in Chicago.

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Washington Editor

Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor's Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation's capital.

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For Romney, a win in Pennsylvania could counteract a loss in Ohio, keeping him in the game as the closing times sweep west across the US.

Oh, you want to know about New Hampshire? It has only four electoral votes, but it’s a true swing state, in the sense that it’s full of voters who are actually persuadable. It’s the only state that George W. Bush won in 2000 but lost in 2004. In 2012, both candidates have spent precious time there in the waning days of the campaign. There’s little early voting here, so New Hampshire could show which way the late momentum has been trending.

At 9 p.m. EST, 14 more states shut their polls. Among them are Colorado, the closest swing state of all, and Wisconsin, where Obama leads but Romney has made a strong push. If either candidate wins both Colorado and Wisconsin, he's almost certain to win the election.

Michigan closes at 9 p.m., as well. The Wolverine State should be solidly blue, despite Romney’s family history in the state. If it’s even close there, it could portend a long night for Democrats.

At 10 p.m., Iowa and Nevada end voting. Most Nevadans actually vote early or absentee, so the outcome should get called fairly quickly. Obama has a comfortable, if not large, lead in Nevada, according to the polls; if he doesn’t win there, it’s not fatal to his chances, but it wouldn’t be good. It might be an indication that the Hispanic vote isn’t turning out for Democrats as much as they’d hoped.

Iowa is razor close. Obama ended his campaign there, saying it was because he wanted to finish in the state where his presidential hopes began in 2008. He could lose Iowa’s six votes and still find ways to reach 270. For his part, Romney needs the state badly.

After that, the states still voting will be mostly nonbattlegrounds. At 11 p.m. EST, polls in five West Coast states close, including California, biggest prize of all with 55 electoral votes. Alaska ends voting at 1 a.m., bringing an end to an expensive, clamorous, and close 2012 presidential campaign.

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