SOUTH BEND — We don’t know what will happen on the night of Nov. 3 as TV networks color states red or blue, declaring winners one by one in the Electoral College, where the presidency is decided. Or on Nov. 4? Or Nov. 5? Or in weeks or even months thereafter?

Well, we can be pretty sure of some things. Indiana, as often in the past, is likely to be the first state declared and colored red, Republican. That’s because Indiana polls close early, and the first substantial returns could show it is again clearly in the Republican column. Not as decisively as the nearly 20% margin for President Trump in 2016, but still for Trump.

Michigan is likely in early returns to look red as well. But the networks won’t quickly declare a winner there. That’s because of the massive number of absentee votes still being tabulated. Mail-ins are likely to be more Democratic than the votes cast in person at polling places. Trumpsters and anti-Trumpsters agree on that. When all the tabulating is done, Michigan is likely to be colored blue. Polls show Joe Biden with a sizeable lead. And the Trump campaign showed signs earlier of conceding Michigan in order to concentrate on other targets, especially Minnesota.

Indiana doesn’t matter. Nor does the much bigger California. Both parties and all the experts projecting election results already count Indiana as Republican and California as Democratic. Electors from a majority of other states, all where there just isn’t much doubt about the outcome, already are being counted for one side or the other in this sharply divided nation.

Michigan matters. It’s one of the battleground states that will decide the presidential election. Trump just narrowly won Michigan last time. It was one of the key states where he exceeded expectations to amass enough electoral votes to win. Even if Trump loses Michigan this time, he has other possible paths to reelection, despite the likely prospect of losing again, probably even bigger, in the national popular vote.

Even if Trump is shown to have lost Michigan when tabulating is final, the delay in results could in itself help him retain the presidency. That’s the scenario cited as a possibility by numerous columnists, including traditional conservative David Brooks. His scenario: Election night returns from votes cast at polling places show Trump ahead in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. Although mail-in ballots are still being counted, President Trump quickly declares victory on election night.

“As the mail-in ballots are tallied, the Trump leads erode,” writes Brooks. “But the situation is genuinely unclear. Trump is on the warpath, raging about fraud. Within weeks there are lawsuits and challenges everywhere.”

In this scenario, Trump, though he lost, refuses leave the White House. A result of course would be rioting in the streets, one side outraged at Trump, the other outraged at Democrats “rigging” the election against him.

The Transition Integrity Project, a “bipartisan” group in which all the Republican members are anti-Trump, also has a worst-case scenario in which there would be violence and a constitutional crisis. Unlikely? Let us hope so.

Perhaps the results, one way or the other, will be clear, hard to dispute, though disputes there will be. We don’t know what will happen on the night of Nov. 3 as the TV networks color states red or blue. We do know that they very likely will lack enough states declared to call the race that night.

We do know that President Trump has set things up for challenging the eventual outcome, if it goes against him, by saying the only way he can lose is if the election is rigged and that there will be massive fraud with mail-in ballots. We don’t know what will happen on election night or in weeks or even months thereafter.  

Colwell covers Indiana politics for the South Bend Tribune.