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As the race tightens, chances of a protracted legal struggle increase.


As a resounding victory for President Trump or former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. appeared less likely, voters steeled themselves for prolonged, state-by-state legal battles over which ballots will be counted.

Both parties have already dispatched hundreds of lawyers, and the prospect of legal battles intensified on Wednesday as closely fought swing states counted mail ballots and President Trump warned that he would go to the Supreme Court to try to prematurely shut down the election.

No state was as closely watched as Pennsylvania. Republicans there filed twin lawsuits in state and federal courts on Tuesday trying to block efforts by some counties to allow voters to correct mistakes in their mail ballots, like missing signatures.

Also looming over the count was the prospect of the Supreme Court weighing in on a dispute over whether Pennsylvania can count mail ballots postmarked by Election Day that arrive within three days of Nov. 3, as it plans to.

The Supreme Court last week allowed Pennsylvania to keep its plan intact. But that decision could yet stoke further litigation: Some justices opened the door to reconsidering the issue, and state officials decided to segregate ballots arriving after Tuesday night.

By early Wednesday, there were hundreds of thousands of votes still to be counted in Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, many of them mail ballots that both sides expect to favor Mr. Biden. The margin remained tight in those states, which could tip the balance of the Electoral College.

It is still possible that a swing in the late count in those states could deliver such a clear-cut outcome that any legal action becomes moot.

But since early voting began, Republicans have already launched the most aggressive moves in modern memory to nullify ballots before they were counted. President Trump hewed to that strategy in saying early Wednesday that he would ask the Supreme Court to intervene to halt the legitimate counting of the vote, remarks that drew bipartisan condemnation.

But it was not clear how President Trump might appeal to the Supreme Court. There is no legal case compelling states to stop counting ballots that were properly filled out and submitted on time. And the high volume of mail ballots this year made protracted counting in some places, including battleground states, almost inevitable.

In Pennsylvania, it was not clear how many mail ballots could be affected by the Republican lawsuits filed on Tuesday. In one suit, Republican lawyers took issue with guidance given to counties across the state allowing voters whose mail ballots were at risk of being disqualified — because of missing signatures or secrecy envelopes, for example — to fix the problems or cast emergency ballots.

The main target of that lawsuit, the secretary of state, Kathy Boockvar, an appointee of Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor, defended the guidance Tuesday night. “We don’t think we broke the law,” she said.

The other lawsuit similarly revolved around rules allowing voters to correct their ballots, but only in Montgomery County, a suburb of Philadelphia. That case, which so far appears to affect only a small number of ballots, is to be argued on Wednesday.

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