The winner of the U.S. presidential election remained in doubt Wednesday, with the outcome hinging on a handful of states where a flood of mail-in ballots sparked by the coronavirus pandemic remained to be counted.
President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden both won states they were expected to win in their bid for a majority in the Electoral College that determines who wins the White House in the country’s indirect form of democracy.
But the outcome of contests in several states — Georgia and Pennsylvania in the nation’s East and Arizona and Nevada in the West — was unsettled as officials counted millions of votes, some that were cast on Tuesday and many more during weeks of early voting.
Trump led in Georgia and Pennsylvania and Biden in Arizona and Nevada, but with the eventual results uncertain.
After trailing in the early vote-counting in two Midwestern states, Wisconsin with 10 electoral votes and Michigan with 16, Biden won Wisconsin and was ahead in Michigan.
But Bill Stepien, Trump’s campaign manager, said, “There have been reports of irregularities in several Wisconsin counties which raise serious doubts about the validity of the results. The president is well within the threshold to request a recount and we will immediately do so.”
In addition, the Trump campaign asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in the ballot counting in Pennsylvania.
Late Wednesday afternoon, as his electoral fortunes improved, Biden told reporters he would not declare victory, but said, “When the count is finished, we believe we will be the winner. I feel very good.”
He added, “Now, every vote must be counted” in the remaining states where the outcome remains uncertain.
Even as vote-counting was ongoing in the early hours Wednesday, Trump appeared before supporters at the White House to claim victory. He said he would go to the Supreme Court to try to have what he called the “voting” stopped, although polls had closed hours earlier and state election officials were continuing to tally ballots.
“This is a major fraud on our nation,” Trump contended, adding, “As far as I’m concerned, I already have” won.
Also Wednesday, Biden campaign manager Jennifer O’Malley Dillon said on Twitter, “If Donald Trump got his wish and we stopped counting ballots right now, Joe Biden would be the next president of the United States.”
Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien countered, “If we count all legally cast ballots, we believe the president will win.” He said that any news outlets that declared that Biden had won Arizona are “just plain wrong,” and that Trump would eventually win the state by 30,000 votes.
The Biden campaign called the president’s vow to shut down the counting of ballots an “outrageous” effort to take away the democratic rights of American citizens who chose to cast their ballots before Election Day.
Earlier, Biden addressed supporters in his home city of Wilmington, Delaware, to thank them and express confidence he would prevail.
“Keep the faith guys; we’re going to win this,” Biden told cheering supporters near his home as they honked car horns.
But as vote counting continued in several key states where he trailed Trump, Biden warned, “We’re going to have to be patient.”
Trump called for ending the election even as he trailed Biden in the Electoral College vote count, 224-213, with a majority of 270 in the 538-member Electoral College needed to claim a new presidential term starting Jan. 20.
The national winner is determined by the outcome in each of the 50 states and the national capital city of Washington, with each state winner collecting all the state’s electoral votes except in two lightly populated states where the winners in individual congressional districts come into play.
Biden led the national popular vote on Wednesday, 69.8 million to 66.8 million, but it is the Electoral College vote that is controlling, with the most populous states having the most electoral votes.
Trump had told confidants in recent days that he would declare victory on the night of Election Day if he felt he was “ahead.”
“I think it’s a terrible thing when ballots can be collected after an election,” he told reporters on Sunday. “I think it’s a terrible thing when states are allowed to tabulate ballots for a long period of time after the election is over.”
Trump’s running mate, Vice President Mike Pence, said Republicans were determined to “protect the vote” but did not echo Trump in saying they had already won.
“It’s going to be a fight to the end,” said La Trice Washington, a political scientist at Otterbein University in Ohio.
• Democrats were on track, as expected, to retain their majority control of the House of Representatives. Republicans appeared to be clinging to their majority in the Senate, with incumbent Republican lawmakers turning back stiff challenges from Democrats in several states.
• Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate majority leader, won his seventh six-year term.
• According to an Edison Research voter exit poll, Trump improved his standing with every race and gender except white men, compared with his showing in 2016 when he defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.
• The FBI said it was investigating reports of robocalls discouraging people from voting in some states. But there were no signs of large-scale conflict at polls as some had feared.
• Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told reporters Tuesday there was “no indication” that a “foreign actor” successfully interfered in the election.
Tens of millions of people stood in lines across the country throughout the day to cast their ballots on Election Day. More than 101 million other people voted early in recent weeks, partly to avoid coming face-to-face with others amid the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.
The early vote in the waning weeks of the 2020 election amounted to more than two-thirds of the entire vote count in the 2016 election.
With the heavy early voting, the total 2020 count, by some estimates, could reach a U.S. record of 150 million or more. But with state-by-state laws controlling how soon the absentee votes could be counted — not until Tuesday night or later in some states —election experts predicted the outcome of the election might not be known for days, which is now a possibility.
The presidential election unfolded after a rancorous and combative campaign, with both Trump and Biden lobbing taunts, claiming the other was unfit to lead the country and would take it to ruination.
Last weekend, tensions mounted as thousands of Trump campaign supporters rallied and demonstrated throughout the country; in one case a caravan of vehicles with Trump flags in Texas surrounded a Biden campaign bus and, according to some accounts, tried to force it off a highway.
Authorities and merchants in some cities, including New York, Detroit and Washington near the White House, boarded up storefronts to prevent potential damage and looting in the event election-related violence erupted; but; Election Day was peaceful.
Some Democrats said they wanted to be among the first to vote against Trump, while many Republicans said they planned to vote in person on the official presidential Election Day — the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November — as has been the norm in U.S. elections every four years since the mid-1800s.
Voters were choosing between two septuagenarians, both older than most the country’s 328 million citizens. Biden will be 78 by Inauguration Day on January 20, while Trump is 74. Whoever wins will be the oldest U.S. leader ever.