As votes continued to be counted in an election with record-breaking turnout where most ballots were cast before Election Day but many could not be counted until afterward, the presidency continued to hang in the balance late Wednesday morning, with the hopes of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and President Trump resting in a handful of key states.
By Wednesday morning, Mr. Biden’s prospects had brightened a bit amid signs that he held narrow leads in several states which, if they hold, could propel him past the critical threshold of 270 electoral votes. Mr. Trump’s path to winning a second term appeared narrower, and depended on his ability to carry more of the undecided states, including several battleground Great Lakes states that he won in 2016 where Mr. Biden was showing signs of strength.
With over 3 million votes yet to be counted across seven key states — there is a reason that news organizations and other usually impatient actors were waiting to declare victors — Mr. Biden was clinging to narrow leads in Arizona, Nevada and Wisconsin late Wednesday morning and had a slender lead of less than 10,000 votes in Michigan.
If he is able to hold all those states, the former vice president could win the election, even without Pennsylvania, which has long been viewed as a must-have battleground state.
“We feel good about where we are,” Mr. Biden told rattled supporters early Wednesday morning. “I’m here to tell you tonight we believe we’re on track to win this election. I’m optimistic about this outcome.”
The source of Mr. Biden’s resilience lies in the nature of the votes still to be counted. Many are mail-in ballots, which favor him because the Democratic Party spent months promoting the message of submitting votes in advance, while Mr. Trump encouraged his voters to turn out on Election Day.
In some states, like Michigan and Pennsylvania, many of the uncounted votes are from populous urban and suburban areas like Wayne County, home of Detroit, or Allegheny County, home of Pittsburgh. These areas also tend to vote heavily for Democrats.
Even in Pennsylvania, where Mr. Trump had run up a daunting lead of roughly 10 percentage points as of Wednesday morning, Mr. Biden had a plausible shot of catching up. Pennsylvania’s secretary of state said there were more than 1.4 million mail-in ballots still to be counted, and those votes are expected to heavily favor Mr. Biden.
But Mr. Trump was showing signs of strength with leads in states including North Carolina and Georgia, and his campaign expressed hopes that his early Pennsylvania lead could withstand an influx of mail-in ballots for Mr. Biden. Then, if Mr. Trump was able to retake the lead in Arizona or flip Nevada, which has gone Democratic in recent elections, he would have a path to a second term.
And Mr. Trump has threatened to use the courts to try to invalidate ballots received after Nov. 3, which would upend the vote count.
It is impossible to know until all the votes are counted if the arithmetic works for Mr. Biden. Mr. Biden’s position looked less secure in North Carolina, where Mr. Trump seemed on track to prevail.
For Mr. Biden to be clinging to a cliff edge is, by itself, a reversal of fortune. On the eve of the election, pollsters predicted that he would easily recapture the “blue wall” of northern industrial states that Hillary Clinton lost to Mr. Trump in 2016 and pick off traditional Republican strongholds like Texas and Arizona. Only Arizona fell into his column, and his lead there is not bulletproof.
After a long election night rife with dramatic twists, Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden battled to a near draw in electoral votes, each shy of the 270 needed to capture the presidency.
Mr. Trump prematurely declared victory and said he would petition the Supreme Court to demand a halt to the counting. Mr. Biden urged his supporters — and by implication, Mr. Trump — to show patience and allow the process to play out.
Their dueling, post-midnight appearances captured the raw struggle of a contest that many feared would leap from the campaign trail to the courts.
The president’s statement, delivered in the White House, amounted to a reckless attack on the democratic process during a time of deep anxiety and division in the country. Mr. Biden, speaking from a flag-draped stage in Wilmington, Del., appealed for calm and tried to reassure supporters.
“It’s not my place or Donald Trump’s place to declare who has won this election,” Mr. Biden said, to a chorus of honking car horns at a drive-in rally. “That’s the decision of the American people.”
Mr. Trump, however, derided the vote-counting as “a major fraud on our nation. We want the law to be used in a proper manner,” he said. “We’ll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court. We want all voting to stop.”
Here is the state of play in seven battleground state as of 11:30 a.m. Eastern time on Wednesday.
Electoral votes: 11
Biden leads Trump, 51.0 percent to 47.6 percent, with 86 percent of the estimated vote in.
To keep in mind: Counties with critical votes still to be counted include Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix and where Biden is ahead by about six points. Officials have said they expect to finish counting ballots today.
Electoral votes: 16
Trump leads Biden, 50.5 percent to 48.3 percent, with 92 percent of the estimated vote in.
Keep in mind: Most of the votes yet to be counted are in DeKalb County and other counties in the suburbs of Atlanta that have been breaking heavily for Biden. The Georgia secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, said in a television interview that he expected the count to be done by the end of the day, and called a news conference for late Wednesday morning
Electoral votes: 16
Biden leads Trump, 49.3 percent to 49.1 percent, with 90 percent of the estimated vote in.
Keep in mind: Nearly a quarter of the vote in Wayne County, a Democratic stronghold that includes Detroit, has yet to be counted, and Biden was closing the gap in Kent County, which includes Grand Rapids, with more than 15 percent of votes outstanding. The secretary of state said last night that she expected to have “a very clear picture, if not a final picture” of the results by tonight.
Electoral votes: 6
Biden leads Trump, 49.3 percent to 48.7 percent, with 86 percent of the estimated vote in.
Keep in mind: All of the Election Day vote has been counted, and now only Democratic-leaning late mail and provisional ballots remain. The secretary of state says the next update will come at around 12 p.m. Eastern time.
Electoral votes: 15
Trump leads Biden, 50.1 percent to 48.7 percent, with 95 percent of the estimated vote in.
Keep in mind: With most votes now tabulated, Biden would need to win about two-thirds of the remainder to pull ahead.
Electoral votes: 20
Trump leads Biden, 54.1 percent to 44.6 percent, with 78 percent of the estimated vote in.
Keep in mind: An analysis by The Times’s Upshot finds that the remaining vote appears to be overwhelmingly for Biden. Only 19 of 67 counties have their reported absentee votes. The populous counties where the largest portion of the votes have yet to be counted include Philadelphia, where Biden leads by 56 percentage points, and Allegheny, which Biden leads by nine percentage points and which includes Pittsburgh. Biden needs to win more than two-thirds of the remaining votes to win the state.
Electoral votes: 10
Biden leads Trump, 49.5 percent to 48.8 percent, with 97 percent of the estimated vote in.
Keep in mind: Biden’s narrow lead is the mirror image of the Trump’s four years ago, and there are only a scattering of precincts remaining to be counted across the state. Full results are expected to be announced today.
Joseph R. Biden Jr. started election night with many paths to 270 electoral votes, but by Wednesday morning President Trump had won Florida, Ohio and Texas and was within striking distance of winning North Carolina.
That left a diminished but still significant number of ways by which Mr. Biden could prevail, mostly clustered around recapturing Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, the once-reliable “blue wall” states that Mr. Trump toppled four years ago.
One alternate path still available for Mr. Biden: winning both Arizona and Georgia, Sun Belt states where he appears in good shape with tens of thousands of votes left to be counted.
Mr. Biden is on track to win Arizona, the first flip of a 2016 Trump state after a succession of near, and not-so-near, misses in other battlegrounds.
If Mr. Biden prevails in Georgia, he can reach 270 electoral votes while losing Pennsylvania and Michigan or Wisconsin.
Or he could become president simply by winning back Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
In Georgia, where Mr. Trump held a substantial lead with about 80 percent of the vote counted, a leak at a processing center in the central part of the state halted the tabulation of ballots for Atlanta and its suburban counties, which are seen as Democratic strongholds.
Well over half the vote remains left to count in DeKalb County, a heavily Democratic suburb of Atlanta, making the race a tossup heading into Wednesday morning.
Mr. Biden, appearing briefly before his supporters in Wilmington, Del., early Wednesday, said he was “feeling real good about Wisconsin and Michigan” and predicted a win in Pennsylvania, a central battleground that is notorious for its sluggish counting of ballots.
“We believe we are on track to win this election,” he said.
Mr. Trump’s victories in Florida, Ohio and Texas did not create a new path for him so much as close off new shortcuts by which Mr. Biden could have claimed victory on Election Day. In remarks made early Wednesday from the White House, the president was adamant that he would hold onto Georgia, North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — all states with significant percentages of ballots left to count.
“We don’t need all of them” to win, he said.
His last chance for a flip is Nevada, which was expected to be a tight race, but one generally favoring Mr. Biden.
Otherwise, Mr. Trump’s path to winning a second term depends on holding onto the battleground Great Lakes states he won in 2016 and on retaining Georgia.
The Postal Service said Wednesday morning that it had completed Election Day sweeps of 12 districts that were ordered by a federal judge who was concerned that some ballots might have slipped through the cracks.
“We did complete the sweeps last night,” Dave Partenheimer, a spokesman for the Postal Service, said an email. He said the agency would provide more detail to the judge later today.
Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the District of Columbia has scheduled a noon hearing to discuss the status of the search for ballots in districts where performance of on-time mail delivery had been lagging.
Judge Sullivan had ordered an immediate sweep of certain districts Tuesday afternoon after the Postal Service said in court that some 300,000 ballots it had received had not been scanned for delivery. He said he was particularly concerned about ballot delivery in postal districts where there has been slow processing of ballots for days, including Central Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and Detroit.
The dramatic Election Day order came as record numbers of Americans voted by mail this year, with many voters were anxious to avoid crowds at the polls during the pandemic — and at the end of a campaign season marked by fears that Postal Service changes and cutbacks under Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump appointee, had caused extensive mail delays that could imperil ballots.
Roughly 300,000 ballots that the Postal Service says it processed showed no scan confirming their delivery to ballot-counting sites, according to data filed recently in federal court in Washington, D.C., leaving voter-rights advocates concerned.
Postal officials said that just because a ballot never received a final scan before going out for delivery, it did not mean, necessarily, that it wasn’t delivered. A machine scanning ballots for final processing can sometimes miss ballots that are stuck together or whose bar codes are smudged. And hand-sorted ballots typically do not receive a final scan before delivery.
The Postal Service has also authorized expedited delivery of ballots that forego the normal process, but voting-rights advocates worried that without a scan verifying that the ballots went out for delivery, some could be sitting uncounted at various postal facilities around the country.
Mr. Partenheimer said the agency had been conducting daily searches at all of its facilities for ballots that might fall through the cracks.
In Australia and Indonesia, crowds gathered around televisions in restaurants and cafes, trying to get a glimpse of American states turning red or blue. In Iran, the hashtag #Elections_America was trending on Persian Twitter, while in Japan, Fuji Television spent a good portion of Wednesday morning covering the election with graphics that mixed old-school cardboard cutouts with video-game-like avatars.
All over the world, as results trickled in across the American electoral map, it made for confounding, fascinating must-watch drama. The stakes are global, and so was the audience, glued to the sort of blanket news coverage most often reserved for elections closer to home.
“It’s kind of like the World Cup finals,” said Moch Faisal Karim, an international relations professor at Binus University in Indonesia.
The intense worldwide interest reflects the still-considerable power of America and the unpredictability that has shaped the last four years. President Trump has been a global disrupter in chief, seeking to redefine relations with American allies in Europe and Asia, working to blunt the rise of China and cozying up to autocrats in North Korea and Russia.
After surprise upon surprise during his first term, much of the world is desperate to know if the Trump era will continue, or if the United States will shift back toward the more traditional course that Joseph R. Biden Jr. has promised.
But while many viewers would have liked nothing more than a quick resolution, there instead was uncertainty and angst. First came the quadrennial refresher courses on the complicated American approach to electing a president, and then, as votes were counted, the hours of waiting, as news websites and television channels filled with the 50-state maps and sliding charts familiar to Americans.
People around the world found themselves doing difficult Electoral College math, while trying to keep up with the patchwork of vote-counting procedures all over the United States. They tried to make sense of images of stores boarded up against the potential for violence, and, like Americans, they wondered what voters would decide and what each candidate would say to the world.
“The biggest issue for me is just how deeply divided the United States continues to be,” said Geoff Raby, a former Australian ambassador to China, who admitted he had been watching television all day on Wednesday. “People just have not been able to shift their positions — it was this divided four years ago, and Trump fell over the line and not much has changed.”
Battle for the Senate
Democrats’ path to seizing the Senate continued to narrow Wednesday as Republicans held onto a cluster of seats in critical states and the two parties continued to fight to control the upper chamber of Congress in close contests across the country.
Democrats won a crucial seat in Arizona early Wednesday, with Mark Kelly, a former astronaut, defeating Senator Martha McSally, after former Gov. John Hickenlooper defeated Senator Cory Gardner Tuesday night in the high-profile fight for Colorado’s Senate seat. Those victories were essential to Democrats’ push to take the Senate majority.
In Georgia, the Rev. Dr. Raphael G. Warnock, a Democrat, advanced to a runoff election against Senator Kelly Loeffler, the Republican incumbent. The other race in the state, between Jon Ossoff, the Democratic challenger, and Senator David Perdue, a Republican, was too close to call.
But Republicans across the country were successful in holding off well-funded challengers in a number of key races, casting a pall over the night for Democrats. In Montana, Senator Steve Daines defeated Gov. Steve Bullock and in Iowa, Senator Joni Ernst defeated Theresa Greenfield, a businesswoman who had styled herself as a “scrappy farm kid.” Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, hung onto his seat in South Carolina, fending off the toughest challenge of his political career from Jaime Harrison, a Black Democrat whose upstart campaign electrified progressives across the country and inspired a record-setting onslaught of campaign cash.
Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, defeated a challenge from M.J. Hegar, a former Air Force pilot who Democrats hoped could have an outside chance of winning in the rapidly changing state. In Kentucky, Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, easily won re-election, defeating Amy McGrath, a Democrat who struggled to gain ground despite an outpouring of financial support from her party’s supporters around the nation. And Republicans succeeded in ousting Senator Doug Jones, Democrat of Alabama, who came to power in a 2017 special election against Roy S. Moore, who was accused of sexually assaulting and pursuing teenage girls.
And early returns showed Senator Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina, with a lead over his Democratic challenger, Cal Cunningham, in a seat that strategists in both parties identified as a possible tipping point.
There were still several crucial Senate races that were not yet called that Democrats hope to win, including Maine, and Democrats remained bullish on their chances in Georgia.
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.
The argument President Trump made early Wednesday — that he had won an election in which millions of validly cast ballots remained to be counted — was a blatant misrepresentation of the electoral process.
No state ever reports final results on election night, no state is legally expected to, and if the Supreme Court were to force states to stop counting ballots simply because midnight on Tuesday has passed — as Mr. Trump said he would ask the justices to do — it would be an extraordinary subversion of the democratic process that would disenfranchise millions of voters who cast valid, on-time ballots.
There is nothing new or unusual about prolonged vote counts. In 2008, it took two weeks for Missouri to be called for John McCain. In 2012, it took four days for Florida to be called for Barack Obama. There was no dispute about the legitimacy of these results; it simply took time to finish counting the votes.
In fact, one of Mr. Trump’s own cherished victories, in Michigan in 2016, was confirmed only after two weeks of counting.
Americans are accustomed to knowing who won the presidency on election night because news organizations project winners based on partial counts, not because the entire count is completed that quickly. Because so many people voted by mail this year in response to the coronavirus pandemic, it is taking longer in some states to make accurate projections. But the final, official results will come exactly when they always do: by the certification deadlines each state has set, ranging from two days after the election in Delaware to more than a month after in California.
Mr. Trump sought in his speech from the White House, just as he and his campaign sought in the weeks leading up to Election Day, to conflate two separate things: the casting of ballots after Election Day, and the counting of ballots after Election Day.
“We want all voting to stop,” he said, but it already has; no votes are currently being cast. What Mr. Trump is suggesting is that states not count ballots that were already cast.
The bald political nature of his speech was clear in the contradiction between his comments on Arizona, where Mr. Trump is trailing, and his comments on Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where he has the illusion of large leads because huge numbers of votes from Democratic-leaning areas, like Detroit, Philadelphia and Milwaukee, haven’t been counted yet.
He complained that Fox News had called Arizona for Joseph R. Biden Jr. when many votes were still outstanding. Then, in the next breath, he suggested that he had definitively won Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin despite the far larger numbers of votes still outstanding.
Control of the House
House Democrats are poised to maintain their majority but faced a series of early blows Tuesday night as Democrats in rural districts faced headwinds and Republican incumbents in suburban districts held their own.
House Democrats appeared to be running strong in most competitive districts they snatched up in 2018, and had begun the night confidently predicting that they would expand their majority, citing polling that showed a dismal national environment for Republicans and a revolt of affluent, suburban voters in traditional conservative strongholds thronging the country from the Midwest to Texas. In the final days of the race, Republican strategists had privately predicted losing anywhere from a handful of seats to 20 and focused their efforts on offsetting their losses in largely rural, white working-class districts.
But early returns did not appear to reflect the scale of losses that strategists in both parties had anticipated in the closing days of the race, as a number of Republican incumbents in suburban districts — that Democrats had hoped to take — held onto their seats, and as some Democratic incumbents who won in 2018 in districts where President Trump is popular faced defeat.
In the Midwest, Representatives Ann Wagner of Missouri, Don Bacon of Nebraska, and Rodney Davis of Illinois all retained their seats in districts where Democrats were confident they could win.
In Iowa, Representative Abby Finkenauer, a Democrat representing the northeastern swathe of the state, lost to Ashley Hinson, a former state legislator and television reporter. Representative Joe Cunningham, Democrat of South Carolina, also lost in a race against Nancy Mace, the first woman to graduate from Citadel.
With Mr. Trump making significant inroads with Cuban-Americans in the Miami area, Democrats were dealt twin surprise blows, with Representatives Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala, a former Health and Human Services secretary, both conceding their races early in the night in their adjoining districts.
President Trump has been declared the winner in Florida after pulling off a remarkable turnaround from 2016 in the Miami area, wooing conservative Cuban-American voters and other Latino groups in numbers sufficient to overcome Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s middling gains with white Floridians.
This is a big, though not huge, moment for his re-election hopes, mainly because it would have been all but impossible for him to win back the White House without capturing this state’s 29 Electoral College votes again.
Four years ago, Mr. Trump lost the Miami-Dade area by nearly 30 percentage points to Hillary Clinton. As of late Tuesday, that margin had shrunk to about eight percentage points with Mr. Biden at the top of the ticket — with Mr. Trump’s vote totals in that critical area increasing from 334,000 in 2016 to around 500,000 this year.
Mr. Biden spent far more time and resources courting Black voters, and he began to heavily invest in a major Latino outreach operation only late in the campaign. He had hoped he would come close to Mrs. Clinton’s benchmark, while siphoning off votes from Mr. Trump among disenchanted suburban whites and older voters.
If Mr. Biden could take any consolation from the loss, it was the fact that he marginally outperformed Mrs. Clinton in the county that includes Jacksonville, defeating Mr. Trump there, while exceeded her performance in Tampa and its suburbs, again by a small amount.
But while it was too early to draw any definitive conclusions about other states, one thing is clear: Mr. Biden had focused, since securing the nomination, on attracting white voters in the Midwest and elsewhere. He spent less time and resources on outreach to Latino voters.
Florida has been a heartbreak state for Democrats since George W. Bush narrowly defeated Al Gore there in 2000 after a partial recount and an intervention on the part of the Supreme Court that effectively handed the election to Mr. Bush.
Polls had shown the race very tight — with many showing Mr. Biden with a lead — but Democrats were hardly confident going into the night, given the closeness of the polls.
While there have been countless election cases filed around the nation, it is not clear which of them might reach the Supreme Court in the coming days.
But one candidate is already on the docket. Last month, the court refused to put a case from Pennsylvania — where the state’s highest court extended the deadline for receiving ballots by three days — on a fast track, but three justices indicated that the court might return to it later if need be.
Should the vote in Pennsylvania have the potential to determine the outcome in the Electoral College and should those late-arriving ballots have the potential to swing the state — two big ifs — the U.S. Supreme Court might well intercede.
Late last month, the justices refused a plea from Republicans to fast-track a decision on whether the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had acted lawfully when it ordered a three-day extension for ballots clearly mailed on or before Election Day, and for ballots with missing or illegible postmarks “unless a preponderance of the evidence demonstrates that it was mailed after Election Day.”
The justices’ refusal came a little more than a week after the court deadlocked, 4 to 4, on an emergency application in the case on Oct. 19.
Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh said they would have granted a stay blocking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision. On the other side were Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and the court’s three-member liberal wing: Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who joined the court on Oct. 27, did not take part in the decision not to fast-track the case.
Justice Alito, joined by Justices Thomas and Gorsuch, criticized his court’s treatment of the matter, which he said had “needlessly created conditions that could lead to serious postelection problems.”
“It would be highly desirable to issue a ruling on the constitutionality of the State Supreme Court’s decision before the election,” Justice Alito wrote. “That question has national importance, and there is a strong likelihood that the State Supreme Court decision violates the federal Constitution.”
But there was not enough time, he wrote. Still, Justice Alito left little doubt about where he stood on the question in the case.
Pennsylvania officials have instructed county election officials to segregate ballots arriving after 8 p.m. on Election Day through 5 p.m. on Friday. That would as a practical matter allow a ruling from the Supreme Court to determine whether they were ultimately counted.