ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Ever-blue New York has twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans and has turned less friendly for Republicans over the past decade, thanks in part to upstate population loss and a decrease in New Yorkers identifying as Republicans. Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election decisively in the state. Democrats control the governor’s office and enjoy supermajorities in both chambers of the state Legislature.

New York’s top race this November features Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul running to become the state’s first elected female governor against Republican U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin of Long Island. Former lieutenant governor Hochul took office last year following the resignation of her predecessor former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who resigned to avoid a likely impeachment trial. Hochul’s lead in opinion polls has dwindled in recent weeks. Zeldin hopes his anti-crime messaging will help him further narrow the gap and oust her.

Hochul has stressed her support for abortion rights and acting on climate change. She has criticized Zeldin for supporting former President Donald Trump and for voting against certifying the 2020 election results. Zeldin has said he would favor appointing an anti-abortion state health commissioner and has criticized millions of dollars spent to help abortion providers amid an expected surge in out-of-state patients.

Republicans represent eight out of New York’s 27 previous congressional districts going into the 2022 election, with New York set to lose one of those seats. Democrats tried to create new federal and legislative political maps that would have cemented solid liberal majorities statewide. An upstate judge ended up ordering new sets of maps drawn by an independent court master, whose maps gave Democrats a smaller edge.

Roughly a third of New York’s House races are viewed as competitive, with Republicans in play in races on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley. In one of the most closely watched races, U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the five-term Democrat who was supposed to be leading his party’s attempt to hold on to Congress, is fighting for survival in a district in the Hudson River Valley. One closely watched race in upstate New York is in the Syracuse area, where Republican Rep. John Katko is leaving after four terms. That race pits Republican and U.S. Navy veteran Brandon Williams against Democrat Francis Conole, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and current U.S. Naval Reserve captain.

Democrats over the past decade have amassed supermajorities in the state House and state Senate, after years of Republican control of the state Senate.

Here’s a look at what to expect on election night:

ELECTION NIGHT

Polls close at 9 p.m. ET.

HOW NEW YORK VOTES

New York has expanded absentee voting amid the COVID-19 pandemic to allow voters to choose to vote by mail over fear of spreading the virus at the polls. A deluge of absentee ballots in 2020 led to some lengthy delays in vote-counting. Lawmakers passed a law requiring counties to start processing absentee ballots before Election Day in hopes of avoiding such delays. Republicans challenged the law in court, but a state appeals court ruled against them, saying it would be “extremely disruptive” to abandon the new system with voting already underway.

New York voters defeated a ballot referendum in 2021 that would have changed the state constitution to allowed for no-excuse absentee voting. The state constitution requires absentee voters to be absent from their home county, ill, or physically disabled.

About 552,000 absentee ballots have been sent out with more than 188,000 returned so far, according to the state Board of Elections. Things happen quickly after the polls close. Because ballots have been flowing into country clerk offices for weeks — and are processed as they arrive — results from a huge chunk of the total vote are released within 90 minutes of polls closing at 7 p.m. local time.

Roughly two-thirds of voters in New York City are Democrats. Republicans enjoy the voter registration edge in western and northern New York counties. Republicans are also competitive on Long Island: About 30% of Nassau County voters are Republicans compared to 40% who are Democrats, while 31% of Suffolk County voters are Republicans compared to 34% who are Democrats.

New York hasn’t elected a statewide Republican elected official since former Gov. George Pataki, who served as governor from 1995 to 2006. For Zeldin to overtake Hochul, he’ll have to limit his loss margins in New York City and try to win over independent voters throughout the rest of the state. Independent voters outnumber Republicans in New York.

DECISION NOTES

The AP will count votes and declare winners in 189 contested elections in New York, including four statewide races and 26 U.S. House races. In the 2020 general election, the AP first reported results at 9:28 p.m. ET and 90% of results at 12:28 a.m. ET on Wednesday, Nov. 4. The AP reported 100% of results Thursday, Nov. 12, nine days after Election Day.

New York has a mandatory recount provision that kicks in if the margin of victory is 20 votes or less, is less than 0.5% or, in a contest where over 1 million ballots are cast, is less than 5,000 votes. The AP may call a statewide or U.S. House race in which the margin between the top two candidates is 0.5% or less if we determine the lead is too large for a recount to change the outcome.

The AP will not call down-ballot races on election night if the margin between the top two candidates is less than 2%. AP will revisit those races later in the week to confirm there aren’t enough outstanding votes left to count that could change the outcome.

WHAT ELSE SHOULD I KNOW?

Q: WHAT’S CHANGED SINCE THE PANDEMIC ELECTION OF 2020?

A: A new law passed in 2021 allows the Board of Elections to begin processing mail ballots prior to Election Day, though it cannot begin tabulating results until an hour prior to the poll close on election day. Previously, absentee ballots could not be counted until seven days after election night. Mail ballots represented 21% of the 2020 vote in New York but will be a much smaller slice this year.

New York lost one U.S. house seat in congressional redistricting. The New York Assembly and Senate have also been the subject of redistricting. Population losses upstate and gains downstate may impact the balance of power in congressional district and state senate races. Further re-districting of the state assembly has been ordered for 2024.

Q: WHAT DO TURNOUT AND ADVANCE VOTE LOOK LIKE?

A: As of Feb. 21, 2022, there were 12,982,819 registered voters in New York, including 6.47 million registered Democrats and 2.85 million registered Republicans. In 2018, advance ballots made up only 249,000 (4%) of 6.2 million votes cast. 2020 saw a seismic shift towards early voting, with advance ballots making up 4.4 million (50%) of 8.69 million votes cast.

Requests for absentee ballots must have been made by Oct. 24. Mail ballots must be returned in person by Nov. 8; those being sent by mail must be postmarked by Nov. 8, and received by Nov. 15.

Q: HOW LONG DOES COUNTING USUALLY TAKE?

A: The first reports of voting results from New York City are expected to be received as early as 9:05 p.m. ET. We expect results from the rest of the state may start to trickle in about 20 minutes later. It is likely that these early vote totals will reflect advance and mail ballots. Returns will continue to come in over the next few hours.

Q: WHAT ARE THE PITFALLS WITH EARLY RETURNS?

A: The new election rules allowing quicker tabulation of mail ballots will have a major impact on early returns. The first votes will likely be a report of advance and mail ballots. As with other recent races, the use of mail ballots has shown a partisan divide, with Democrats far more likely to use mail ballots than Republicans. This means early results may be skewed to one party or the other depending on the types of votes reported.

Q: WHAT HAPPENS AFTER TUESDAY?

A: New York law provides for mandatory recounts if the margin of victory is 20 votes or less, is less than 0.5% or, in a contest where over 1 million ballots are cast, is less than 5,000 votes. This would occur after the state’s statutory recanvass.

Check out The AP website to learn more about the issues and factors at play in the 2022 midterm elections. Follow AP’s coverage of the elections at The AP website. Associated Press contributed to this report.