How to watch election night 2020 like a pro with a multiscreen setup

Place laptops and tablets alongside your main TV to livestream more than one view of the returns.

David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials
  • Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
David Katzmaier
7 min read
David Katzmaier/CNET

The most important thing to do today, Election Day, Tuesday Nov. 3, is to vote if you haven't done so already. But this evening, if you're like a lot of people, you'll be tuning in to the news to watch as the results come in. Every major TV and news outlet is going to have live coverage of election returns, but what if you want to keep track of more than one at the same time? We've got you covered.

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

Using the TVslaptops and tablets you may already have at home, along with streaming services -- whether paid or free -- it's easier than you think to set up a sort of personal newsroom where you can watch multiple newscasts simultaneously on election night. And if that sounds too stressful, you can use the secondary screens to follow the returns while some actual entertainment plays on your main TV. 

Here are some tips to get started.

Pick one main channel (and screen) with the sound on

If you're enough of a political junkie to want to watch multiple news screens, you probably have one channel you like best. Put that one on your main TV and plan to listen to the audio on that TV for most of the evening. You'll also want to hook this TV to your main TV source (like a cable box or streamer) or use its built-in smart TV apps to stream and connect the streamer to a secondary TV.

Watch this: Big tech explains how it will fight foreign government hacks in US elections

Arrange other screens within view of your 'command seat'

Now it's time for the fun part: setting up the other screens. The most comfortable place to watch is probably from a couch, especially for what's likely to be a long night, but the problem is setting up smaller screens like laptops and tablets in a place where they'll remain big enough to see well -- particularly tickers with news headlines. You'll want to get the largest laptops and tablets available and arrange them on a coffee table or other surface close enough to see clearly and reach to control, generally to either side of your view of the main screen. 

If you're using a tablet and don't have a dedicated tablet stand, plan to prop it up somehow for easy viewing. You'll also want to keep the other screens muted so you don't get crosstalk competing with your main screen's audio.

Bring another TV (or two) into your main viewing room

Most people own a second TV, so if you want to go all-in, bring it into your main viewing area, set it up next to your primary TV and fire it up. Depending on the relative screen sizes of your TVs, you might want to move the smaller one closer, just not as close as the laptops, to make it easier to see. 

For secondary sources, streaming is your friend

Now it's time to get different channels onto your secondary screens. Some live TV streaming services like YouTube TV will allow you to log on to different profiles so you can watch multiple channels from the same account. If you don't subscribe to one of those services there are still plenty of free options for following the returns live, starting with YouTube. Other free TV news sources include Peacock, CBSN, ABC Live, the Roku Channel and more. Any laptop or tablet can access most of those apps, and for your secondary TV, many are available on streaming devices or smart TV systems.

Read more: Free live TV news to watch now: Stream ABC, CBS, Fox News, CNN and more

Get a free trial from a paid streaming service

Another option that requires a little more effort is signing up for a live TV service before election day and then canceling after your free trial period is over. Most such services offer a seven-day trial -- just remember to be sure to cancel in time to avoid paying that first monthly fee.

Read more: 10 ways to save money on streaming


Wi-Fi overloaded on election night? Try going wired.

David Katzmaier/CNET

Clear out your Wi-Fi

Streaming multiple channels at once might tax your home network so if you experience buffering it's worth minimizing extra traffic on your Wi-Fi. Temporarily disable other devices in the house that are using the network might work, but one of the most effective strategies is going wired. Many smart TVs and streamers have wired Ethernet ports you can use instead of Wi-Fi, and your laptop can be wired too (either directly or using an adapter). 

Read more: Here's how to make sure your Wi-Fi is up to speed

It's gonna be a long night (so plug in)

With a record number of people voting by mail and many states allowing votes to be counted after Nov. 3, it's unlikely that the election will be decided on that night. Depending on how late you want to stay up watching, it could be awhile. Those secondary screens will probably run out of battery before the night is over, so try to plug as many devices in as you can, or at least have a power pack ready.

Keep your phone handy for Twitter and texts

One of the nice things about setting up multiple screens for a special viewing event is you can go beyond streaming video. You might want to dedicate one of your screens to a Twitter feed or other social media (or you might not), but a phone usually works best. It's more natural to use for quick chats and replies and has the advantage of being able to send and receive text messages and voice as well.

Take breaks, watch some comedy

This year, and this election, have been stressful enough, and election night on multiple screens is another potential source of anxiety. Even the most dedicated political junkie should remember to dial it back during the night. Get up and stretch your legs, take regular breaks and maybe even try a breathing or meditation app to help center yourself.

And if you're looking for alternative entertainment, you might want to tune away from the news channels on your main TV for a few minutes (don't worry, you can still follow the returns on your secondary screen). Election night comedy specials including The Daily Show's Votegasm 2020: What Could Go Wrong (Again) or Stephen Colbert's Election Night 2020: Democracy's Last Stand: Building Back America Great Again Better 2020 on Showtime could be the perfect antidote to stress. Both start at 11 p.m. ET (8 p.m. PT) on election night. 

No matter how you watch the returns live tonight, an extra screen or two could help you achieve a balanced view of the evening.

What else should I know about the 2020 election?

The election on Tuesday, Nov. 3 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 could 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