The outdoor stage was all set in Wilmington, Del., for Joseph R. Biden Jr. to come out and address the nation — presumably in a victory speech as the president-elect.
There were banners and spotlights and people in cars ready to honk their approval for the next president and his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris. But the hour grew late and the counting of votes kept going and going with no sign of a winner in the contest between Mr. Biden and President Trump.
Finally, close to 11 p.m., Mr. Biden emerged. He did not deliver a victory speech, but came as close as he could, talking about what he intended to do as president while assuring Americans “your vote will be counted.” It was clear that Mr. Biden was getting as restless with the long, laborious count as much of the country.
“It’s as slow as it goes,” Mr. Biden said, describing watching the numbers dribble in on television. “As slow as it goes it can be numbing.”
It has now been four days since Election Day. As long as that might seem, it’s nowhere near the 36 days it took in 2000 before the Supreme Court ended the counting and effectively declared George W. Bush the winner over Al Gore.
While all indications suggest that Mr. Biden has succeeded in defeating Mr. Trump, it’s still close enough in four states — Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Georgia — that the contest remains unresolved.
As the number of outstanding ballots slowly dwindled, Mr. Trump was left increasingly with only legal challenges to forestall defeat. He remained uncharacteristically out of sight on Friday.
This postelection limbo was one more bit of evidence of what a strange election this has been. Ballot counters have been overwhelmed by the record number of early votes cast by mail because of the pandemic; hence the slow, meticulous counts taking place across the country.
Most elections come to an end when one candidate calls the other to concede. Mr. Trump may be trailing — with diminishing hopes of winning — but he’s not the kind of person who concedes. And it’s not in Mr. Biden’s political interest to unilaterally declare victory (as Mr. Trump has effectively done), and feed the conspiracy theory being pushed by the president and his supporters that Democrats are trying to steal the election.
So the count goes on. And on. And on.