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Election night 2020: How to watch the presidential election returns tonight

Go vote (if you haven't already)! Then check out your options for watching election night live tonight, no cable TV required.

Matt Elliott Senior Editor
Matt Elliott is a senior editor at CNET with a focus on laptops and streaming services. Matt has more than 20 years of experience testing and reviewing laptops. He has worked for CNET in New York and San Francisco and now lives in New Hampshire. When he's not writing about laptops, Matt likes to play and watch sports. He loves to play tennis and hates the number of streaming services he has to subscribe to in order to watch the various sports he wants to watch.
Expertise Laptops | Desktops | All-in-one PCs | Streaming devices | Streaming platforms
Matt Elliott
5 min read
See at YouTube
Free streaming option
See at Sling TV
Sling TV
Costs $30 a month
See at Hulu with Live TV
Hulu with Live TV
Costs $55 a month
See at AT&T TV Now
Costs $55 a month
See at FuboTV
Costs $60 a month
See at YouTube TV
YouTube TV
Costs $65 a month

Today is Election Day. While millions of Americans have already voted, millions more are heading to the polls Tuesday to cast their ballots in the race between Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden. We probably won't know the winner before going to bed -- the large number of mail-in ballots could take days to count -- but we should start to get some sense about which way the election is going. 

Read more: It's Election Day: How to avoid getting fooled by misinformation

Other than frantically refreshing Twitter throughout the day, what are your options for watching the election results? Every major network and cable news channel, including ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and C-SPAN, will have live coverage throughout Election Day that will extend into the wee hours of Wednesday. You'll also be able to watch live on YouTube from numerous sources for free

Want to take a break? Two live comedy specials will also air Tuesday night to give you a respite from straight news coverage. After all, there are only so many hours you can watch John King and Steve Kornacki operate their touchscreen electoral maps on CNN and MSNBC before you need to take a break. 

On Comedy Central, Trevor Noah will host The Daily Show's one-hour election special, Votegasm 2020: What Could Go Wrong (Again). And on Showtime, former Daily Show correspondent and current Late Show host Stephen Colbert will be live on election night with his own special, Stephen Colbert's Election Night 2020: Democracy's Last Stand: Building Back America Great Again Better 2020. Both specials start at 11 p.m. ET (8 p.m. PT). 

Read more: Watch election night like a pro on multiple screens at once

How to watch election night without cable

If you don't have a cable or satellite TV subscription, you can watch election night with a live TV streaming service. All of the services listed below carry the major networks and cable news channels. If you want to watch election night on a particular local network, you can check whether each service carries it in your area with the links below. 

All of the live TV services offer Showtime as an $11-a-month add-on if you want to watch Colbert's special. Showtime is also available for the same price as a standalone service through Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV and Roku. 

For the Daily Show's special, every live TV service except Hulu includes Comedy Central.

If you live in an area with good reception, you can watch election night on ABC, CBS, Fox or NBC for free on over-the-air broadcast channels just by attaching an affordable (under $30) indoor antenna to nearly any TV.

It's mentioned above, but to reiterate here: If you have a broadband connection, you can watch election night live on YouTube through many news sites, including CBSN, NBC News, ABC News Live and more.

Sling TV's $30-a-month Blue plan includes NBC and Fox but none of its plans include ABC or CBS. The Blue plan also includes popular cable news channels such as CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. Enter your address here to see which local channels are available where you live.

Read our Sling TV review.

Hulu with Live TV costs $55 a month and includes the four major networks -- ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC -- along with popular cable news channels including CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. Click the "View channels in your area" link on its welcome page to see which local channels are offered in your ZIP code.

Read our Hulu with Live TV review.

AT&T Now's basic $55-a-month Plus package includes the four major networks -- ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC -- along with popular cable news channels including CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. You can use its channel lookup tool to see which local channels are available where you live.

Read our AT&T TV Now review.

FuboTV's Standard plan costs $60 a month and includes the four major networks -- ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC -- along with popular cable news channels including Fox News and MSNBC but not CNN. Click here to see which local channels you get.

Read our FuboTV review.

YouTube TV costs $65 a month and includes the four major networks -- ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC -- along with popular cable news channels including CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. Plug in your ZIP code on its welcome page to see which local networks are available in your area.

Read our YouTube TV review.

What else should I know about the 2020 election?

This year's election will be marked by disinformation from numerous sources both before and after Election Day. Here are the facts.

Voting by mail: If you're planning to vote by mail instead of in-person, be aware that different states have different deadlines for mail-in ballots. Some deadlines to mail in your vote have already passed, while others will allow you to vote by mail through the evening of Nov. 3. If you're planning to vote in person, here's how to find your local polling place.

There has been no evidence of coordinated vote-by-mail fraud, with fewer than 150 criminal convictions for the crime over the last 20 years. The president has voted by mail through his home state of Florida, and Republican politicians and Trump's family members, including Donald Trump Jr., have recorded public service announcements encouraging Republicans to vote by mail.

Different states have different methods of verification, from requiring a signature to having a witness present. Here's how to find vote-by-mail information for your state.

And no, you can't vote by text in US federal or state elections.

Absentee ballot:"Absentee ballot" is now being used interchangeably with the term "vote by mail" now that at least 35 states have changed their policies to make it easier for anyone to apply in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Previously, many states only allowed you to get an absentee ballot if you were deployed with the US armed forces, would be out of town on Election Day or were ill.

Election results: Americans are used to getting results on election day, but this year will be different. Widespread use of mail-in ballots because of the coronavirus may mean a final count will take several days or even weeks as officials process the backlog of votes. Here's how to track your ballot in every state.

QAnon: QAnon is a conspiracy theory that falsely claims that Trump is secretly fighting Democratic elites who run a Satanic child sex-trafficking ring. Trump supporters and Congressional candidates have professed to be believers, despite a lack of any evidence. On Oct. 2, 17 Republican congressmen voted against a bipartisan resolution condemning QAnon. At a town hall on Oct. 15, Trump refused to denounce those promoting the theory.

More 2020 election information