The undecided presidential election entered a new phase on Wednesday as former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. was declared the winner of the key swing state of Wisconsin and the Trump campaign, seeing its path to victory narrowing, announced challenges in several close states.
The Trump campaign said that it would seek a recount in Wisconsin, that it had filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the vote count in Michigan, and that it would intervene in existing litigation that has already gone to the Supreme Court challenging Pennsylvania’s move to extend the deadline for receiving mail-in ballots.
The Trump campaign’s challenges came as President Trump found himself with few paths remaining to winning the 270 electoral votes needed to win re-election. By Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Biden was holding slim leads in several key states that, if they hold, could propel him to the critical Electoral College threshold and the presidency.
The lingering uncertainty of the 2020 campaign was perhaps unsurprising in an election with record-breaking turnout where most ballots were cast before Election Day but many could not be counted until afterward.
Mr. Trump’s chances of winning a second term depended on his ability to hang onto his leads in states like Georgia and in Pennsylvania, where Mr. Biden has been narrowing Mr. Trump’s leads as vote-counting progresses, and on overtaking Mr. Biden in one of the states where Mr. Biden is currently ahead.
With millions of votes yet to be counted across several key states — there is a reason that news organizations and other usually impatient actors were waiting to declare victors — Mr. Biden was holding narrow leads in Michigan, Arizona and Nevada. If Mr. Biden can hold 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.”
Even before the Wisconsin race was called, the Trump campaign said that would request a recount. Under Wisconsin law, a recount can be requested if the margin between the top two candidates is less than 1 percent.
Bill Stepien, Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, said in a statement that “the President is well within the threshold to request a recount and we will immediately do so.”
And Mr. Stepien claimed that the Trump campaign had not been given “meaningful access” to several counting locations in Michigan, and that it had a filed suit in the Michigan Court of Claims to halt counting until access was granted. Shortly after that he announced that the campaign would intervene in Pennsylvania.
One 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. And in Michigan and Pennsylvania many of the uncounted votes are from populous urban and suburban areas that tend to vote heavily for Democrats.
Even in Pennsylvania, where Mr. Trump had run up a daunting lead of roughly 8 percentage points as of Wednesday afternoon, 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.
Mr. Trump held leads in 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 from Mr. Biden in Arizona or Nevada, which has gone Democratic in recent elections, he would have a path to a second term.
Early Wednesday, 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.
Joseph R. Biden Jr. has defeated President Trump in Wisconsin, flipping a state President Trump narrowly won in 2016, according to The Associated Press.
With more than 98 percent of the votes counted, Mr. Biden had 1,630,389 votes and Mr. Trump 1,609,879, a margin of more than 20,000 votes, or 0.6 percentage points.
But under Wisconsin law, a recount can be requested if the margin between the leading candidates is less than 1 percent, and Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, said even before the race was called that the campaign would “immediately do so.”
“The president is well within the threshold to demand a recount,” Mr. Stepien said Wednesday afternoon.
In 2016, a statewide recount increased Mr. Trump’s margin in Wisconsin by 131 votes.
Whoever requests the recount would have to pay for it unless the margin is less than one-quarter of 1 percent.
Andrew Bates, a spokesman for the Biden campaign, said the push for a recount was not the behavior of a winning campaign.
“When Donald Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 by roughly the same amount of votes that Joe Biden just did, or won Michigan with fewer votes than Joe Biden is winning it now, he bragged about a ‘landslide,’ and called recount efforts ‘sad,’” Mr. Bates said. “What makes these charades especially pathetic is that while Trump is demanding recounts in places he has already lost, he’s simultaneously engaged in fruitless attempts to halt the counting of votes in other states in which he’s on the road to defeat.”
Mr. Biden’s narrow Wisconsin advantage came after several of the state’s large cities — including Milwaukee, Green Bay and Kenosha — reported results from their absentee ballots on Wednesday morning.
The Biden campaign maintained a sharp focus on Wisconsin after the state was one of three crucial Great Lakes states that the party lost four years ago. It was a key part of the campaign’s hope of clearing a straightforward path to 270 electoral votes.
During his campaign, Mr. Biden made three visits to the state, which was set to host the Democratic National Convention before it became an all-virtual event because of the coronavirus pandemic, which is currently worse in Wisconsin than in any other battleground state. He maintained a steady lead in the polls in the run-up to Election Day.
In 2016, Mr. Trump became the first Republican presidential candidate to win Wisconsin since 1984, narrowly defeating Hillary Clinton in a state with a large population of white, working-class Democrats.
Wisconsin saw a surge of infections from the coronavirus this fall as voters were preparing to go to the polls. The state had also been upended this year after Kenosha became the site of unrest and protests over the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
Here is the state of play in seven battleground states as of 4 p.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: Trump needs to win nearly two-thirds of the remaining votes to capture the state. Officials have said they expect to announce results around 9 p.m. Eastern time.
Electoral votes: 16
Trump leads Biden, 50.2 percent to 48.6 percent, with 93 percent of the estimated vote in.
Keep in mind: Many 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, who would need almost two-thirds of the remaining vote to carry the state. 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.
Electoral votes: 16
Biden leads Trump, 49.8 percent to 48.6 percent, with 95 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 on Thursday.
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, 52.2 percent to 46.5 percent, with 83 percent of the estimated vote in.
Keep in mind: An analysis by The Times’s Upshot finds that the remaining vote appears to be tilting strongly toward Biden. According to turnout estimates, more than twice as many votes remain to be counted in counties won by Hillary Clinton in 2016 as in counties Trump won.
Populous counties where the largest portion of the votes have yet to be counted include Philadelphia, where Biden leads by more than 50 percentage points, and Allegheny, which Biden leads by over 10 points and which includes Pittsburgh.
Biden needs to win about two-thirds of the remaining votes to win the state. Officials have said they expect most votes to be counted by Friday.
Electoral votes: 10
Biden was declared the winner, 49.4 percent to 48.8 percent, a margin of 0.6 percentage points.
Keep in mind: Wisconsin law allows a recount when the leading candidate’s margin is less than one percent, and the Trump campaign said it would request one.
The Biden and Trump campaigns offered dueling visions of the election’s aftermath early Wednesday, with the former vice president’s team projecting confidence about a victory that seemed within grasp — and Mr. Trump’s team suggesting they will outperform expectations one final time once all “legal ballots” are counted.
“Joe Biden is on track to win this election, and he will be the next president of the United States,” Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s campaign manager, said during a briefing with reporters on Wednesday morning, even as the two candidates remain deadlocked in the low 200s in terms of their electoral vote counts.
Ms. O’Malley Dillon said Mr. Biden was expected to address the country later in the day, but did not disclose what he planned to say.
She said campaign officials believed they had “already won” Wisconsin and that they expected to take Nevada, Michigan and Pennsylvania. She acknowledged that North Carolina was “really tight” and leaned toward President Trump, but said the outcome may not be determined for several days.
She also said the campaign was closely watching Georgia.
“We think that this is already a foregone conclusion,” she said of the overall situation.
In a call with reporters, Mr. Trump’s team offered a different picture of the race — reliant, as it turned out, on the careful counting of ballots despite the president’s repeated attempts to discredit the process.
Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, said that the campaign intended on filing for a recount in Wisconsin. He also predicted that Arizona, which was leaning toward Mr. Biden with about 14 percent of the vote yet to be counted, would end up in the Trump column once all the votes were tallied.
Wisconsin law stipulates that a recount can be requested if the margin between the top two candidate is less than 1 percent. Whoever requests the recount would have to pay for it unless the margin is less than one-quarter of 1 percent. Mr. Biden’s current lead is under 1 percent.
“If we count all legal ballots, the president wins,” said Mr. Stepien, who predicted razor-thin victories in Nevada and Pennsylvania, his words suggesting that they anticipated challenging the legality of some outstanding ballots.
He took no questions and did not offer a definition for “legal ballots.”
Despite Mr. Stepien’s confident stance, officials privately conceded the Trump path to victory was looking very narrow on Wednesday, and depended on keeping Arizona in play.
Mr. Trump, for his part, viewed the tallying of absentee and early ballots — which by early Wednesday had flipped Wisconsin and Michigan in favor of Mr. Biden — with disdain and has long sought to undermine the legitimacy of a process that has been in place for years and overseen by officials in both parties.
Bob Bauer, a former White House counsel to President Barack Obama who is helping to lead the Biden campaign’s election protection efforts, warned that Democrats were prepared to fight any legal challenge Republicans might press in states where Mr. Biden is narrowly ahead.
“Wherever they go and however they go about it, we have lawyers ready to go, papers ready to go, within an hour of hearing of any step that they take,” he told reporters Wednesday.
The Battle for the Senate
Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, emerged victorious on Wednesday in her bid to secure a fifth term, beating back an avalanche of Democratic money and liberal anger in the most difficult race of her career to defeat Sara Gideon, a Democrat, and strengthen her party’s hold on the Senate.
The Associated Press called the race for Ms. Collins with an estimated 75 percent of the votes tabulated and Ms. Collins leading Ms. Gideon by more than six percentage points, 49.8 percent to 43.4 percent.
Ms. Collins said she had received “a very gracious call” from Ms. Gideon conceding the race.
Ms. Collins’s victory dashed Democratic hopes of a crucial pickup as their ambitions of a Senate takeover hung by a thread.
If Joseph R. Biden Jr. wins the presidency, Democrats need to gain three seats to retake control of the Senate, which the Republicans have held since 2015. If President Trump is re-elected, Democrats need to gain four seats.
So far, Democrats have flipped two seats and Republicans have flipped one, for a net gain to the Democrats of one seat. Three races for Republican-held seats where Democrats were thought to have a chance have yet to be called, and Republicans held an edge in two of them.
The Collins-Gideon race was the most expensive in Maine history, with national donors flooding the state with tens of millions of dollars and an onslaught of negative campaign ads. The battle for control of the Senate appeared to be heading out of reach for Democrats.
Democrats early Wednesday won a crucial seat in Arizona, with Mark Kelly, a former astronaut, defeating Senator Martha McSally, and former Gov. John Hickenlooper defeated Senator Cory Gardner on 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. 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, also 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.
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.
Democrats were in danger of losing another seat in Michigan, where the Democratic incumbent, Gary Peters, was in a neck-and-neck race with his Republican challenger, John James.
Senator Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina, claimed victory Wednesday afternoon over his Democratic challenger, Cal Cunningham, in a seat that strategists in both parties identified as a possible tipping point, but news organizations did not declare a victor and Mr. Cunningham did not concede.
Republican lawyers and Trump campaign officials on Wednesday began a wide-ranging legal assault to challenge Democratic votes in key swing states, part of a long-telegraphed, post-Election Day campaign to claim victory over Joseph R. Biden Jr. with help from the courts.
By midday Wednesday, the Trump campaign had announced that it was suing to halt the counting of mail-in ballots in Michigan because of what it called insufficient transparency in the process.
“President Trump’s campaign has not been provided with meaningful access to numerous counting locations to observe the opening of ballots and the counting process, as guaranteed by Michigan law,” said Bill Stepien, President Trump’s campaign manager.
Separately, the Trump campaign said it would seek a recount of the vote in Wisconsin, even before the race was called. Mr. Biden was named the winner there on Wednesday afternoon by The Associated Press, by a margin of more than 20,000 votes, or 0.6 percentage points.
In news briefings and interviews, campaign aides grounded their legal arguments in a claim that they were merely seeking to ensure that no votes get to count that should not count, rather than repeating the president’s own early-morning claims that all counting should have stopped on Election Day, when early and incomplete results showed him ahead in some battleground states that will help decide the Electoral College winner.
“If we count all legal ballots, the president wins,” Mr. Stepien said on a morning conference call with reporters.
The statement was in keeping with the campaign’s legal strategy to contest votes it alleges should not have been counted under state election laws, some of which it is already challenging.
Earlier in the morning, Mr. Trump had emerged from watching returns at the White House to say, “We’ll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court. We want all voting to stop,” a crude rendering of his campaign’s legal position that was legally meaningless and that drew bipartisan criticism.
Already on Wednesday the Trump and Biden campaigns were in Pennsylvania courts pressing dual lawsuits to invalidate provisional and corrected ballots by citizens who were informed before polls closed that problems with their mail-in votes had caused them to be rejected by election officials.
Trump campaign officials also indicated they were considering more legal action in Arizona and in Nevada, where the Trump campaign was already pressing a lawsuit protesting the counting process in the state’s largest county.
Biden campaign officials said they had readied contingencies and legal papers for any challenges the president and his allies might bring. “We are prepared for any effort any Republicans make in any of these states,” said Bob Bauer, a senior adviser to Mr. Biden’s campaign.
He cast the Biden campaign’s legal position as one of more defense than offense, referring to ever-changing tallies that, at that moment, showed Mr. Biden with leads in Wisconsin, Michigan and Arizona and that, if they held, would deliver Mr. Biden the White House.
“As far as our own planning, we’re winning the election,” Mr. Bauer said.
The position marked a key difference from the last time the nation was in a similarly contested setting, in Florida in 2000. In that case, Al Gore, the Democrat, was behind in the returns and was portrayed by Republicans as seeking to snatch victory away from George W. Bush — a position that kept Mr. Gore at a disadvantage throughout the legal fighting that followed.
With counting incomplete and continuing across the country, the dynamic could shift at any minute. But as of early Wednesday afternoon, it was Mr. Trump’s campaign that was in the position of challenging a potentially losing result.
The Trump campaign indicated it was prepared for a lengthy war of legal attrition in a fund-raising appeal it sent to supporters after polls had closed, asking for money so it can “FIGHT BACK” against Democrats that the campaign claimed without evidence were trying to “steal” the election.
The president’s legal tab promised to be high. When the Green Party nominee Jill Stein forced a recount in Wisconsin in 2016, for instance, she received a bill from the state for $3.5 million.
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, and on Wednesday that Trump campaign said that it was intervening in the case, from Pennsylvania, which challenges a ruling by the state’s highest court that extended the deadline for receiving mail ballots by three days.
Last month, the court refused to put the Pennsylvania 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.
As the results rolled in on Tuesday night, a feeing of déjà vu arrived along with them. Pre-election polls, it appeared, had been misleading once again.
While the nation awaits final results from Michigan, Pennsylvania and a few other states, it is already clear — no matter who ends up winning — that the industry failed to fully account for the missteps that led it to underestimate President Trump’s support four years ago.
The misses raise the question whether the polling industry, which has become a national fixation in an era of data journalism and statistical forecasting, can survive yet another crisis of confidence.
“I want to see all the results in,” Christopher Borick, the director of polling at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania, said in an interview. “I want to see where those deviations are from pre-election polls and final margins. But there’s ample evidence that there were major issues again. Just how deep they are, we’ll see.”
In some states where many polls had projected Mr. Trump losing narrowly — like Ohio, Iowa and Florida — he had already been declared the winner by early Wednesday. And in states that had seemed more than likely to go for Mr. Biden, like Michigan and Nevada, results were too close to call as the official tallies trickled in. (In one such state, Wisconsin, Mr. Biden was declared the winner on Wednesday afternoon, by 0.6 percentage points.)
Given the ballots that have been counted, it is now clear that there was an overestimation of Mr. Biden’s support across the board, particularly with white voters and with men. And while polling had presaged a swing away from Mr. Trump among white voters 65 and over, that never fully took shape.
Partly as a result, Mr. Biden underperformed his expectations not only in polyglot states like Florida but in heavily white, suburban areas such as Macomb County, Mich., where he had been widely expected to do well.
Dr. Borick pointed out that while state-level polls had widely misfired in 2016, the same thing had generally not occurred in the 2018 midterm elections. This led him to conclude that Mr. Trump was a complicating factor.
“In the end, like so many Trump-related things, there may be different rules,” he said. “I’m a quantifiable type of human being; I want to see evidence. And I only have two elections with Donald Trump in them — but both seem to be behaving in ways that others don’t behave.”
Not every pollster fared poorly. Ann Selzer, long considered one of the top pollsters in the country, released a poll with The Des Moines Register days before the election showing Mr. Trump opening up a seven-point lead in Iowa; that appears to be in line with the actual result thus far.
And inevitably, Robert Cahaly and his mysterious Trafalgar Group — which projected a bunch of close races in the battlegrounds — will get another look from curious commentators wondering why it has been so close to accurate, both in 2016 and this year.
The firm was among the only pollsters to show Mr. Trump’s strength in the Midwest and Pennsylvania four years ago, and while its polls this fall may end up being a little on the rosy-red side, it appears to have gotten the horse race in many states closer than other pollsters, by not giving short shrift to Mr. Trump’s strengths.
Democrats in New York who had hoped to capitalize on anti-Trump sentiment and pick up several congressional seats across the state were delivered sobering news this week, with two first-term Democratic congressmen in danger of losing and candidates far behind in three other districts the party had hoped to flip.
Millions of mail-in ballots are still uncounted and over all the state remains a Democratic stronghold — the party predictably faired well in urban areas with heavy Democratic representation.
But the results, particularly in the suburbs, seemed to validate the message of Republican candidates who campaigned on “law and order” and who tied Democrats to progressive radicalism and efforts to defund the police.
The results showed a widening political divide between New York City and other urban areas and the rest of the state. And they also reflected a shift back toward Republicans after Democrats had made inroads in swing districts in 2018.
In one swing district encompassing Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn, Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican state assemblywoman endorsed by President Trump, was leading Representative Max Rose, a first-term Democrat, by about 37,000 votes. While she had already delivered a victory speech, Mr. Rose has not conceded and about 52,000 absentee ballots still need to be counted.
In Central New York, Claudia Tenney, a former Republican congresswoman and close ally of Mr. Trump, was leading against Anthony Brindisi, a moderate Democrat who defeated Ms. Tenney in 2018 in a narrow upset.
And on Long Island, Andrew Garbarino, a Republican, declared victory over Jackie Gordon, a veteran of the Army Reserve, in a race to replace Representative Peter King, the 14-term congressman who was retiring.
Lee Zeldin, a Republican incumbent on Long Island, had a sizable lead over Nancy Goroff, a chemist and a professor at Stony Brook University.
Thomas Suozzi, a Democrat incumbent on Long Island, was losing to George Santos, a Republican private equity executive, by a small margin.
For all the criticism that Facebook, Twitter and YouTube endured over their failures to curb disinformation during the 2016 election, their response this time on Election Day was largely smooth.
The social platforms said that they would not allow a political candidate to make misleading statements about the outcome of a race. So when President Trump falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook early Wednesday that the election was being stolen, the companies labeled his message to indicate it was disputed and that there was no winner yet.
Facebook also added a notification at the top of News Feeds to say there was no official election result after Mr. Trump spoke early Wednesday from the White House declaring himself the victor.
“What we actually saw on Election Day from the companies is that they were extremely responsive and faster than they’ve ever been,” said Graham Brookie, the director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. “Outside of the unknowns, the platforms were proactive and prepared for the inevitable — which was disinformation about the results of the election from Donald Trump.”
But the biggest tests for Facebook, Twitter and YouTube could still be looming, misinformation researchers said. Votes are still being counted and the outcome of the presidential race remains unclear, creating a situation that presents many opportunities for false narratives, they said.
Already on Wednesday morning, Twitter applied a label to a post by Ben Wikler, head of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, which asserted prematurely that Joseph R. Biden Jr. had won in the state. The company also added a label to a new tweet from Mr. Trump, in which he claimed his early leads in Democratic states “started to magically disappear.” Twitter also prevented the post from being shared by other users.
“As votes are still being counted across the country, our teams continue to take enforcement action on tweets that prematurely declare victory or contain misleading information about the election broadly,” a Twitter spokesman said in a statement.
A federal judge on Wednesday threatened to call Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to appear before him, expressing frustration with the Postal Service’s slow response in carrying out Election Day sweeps of postal facilities looking for undelivered ballots.
“The postmaster is either going have to be deposed or appear before me,” said Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the District of Columbia, as he continued to monitor the agency’s performance delivering ballots, which can be counted for days after the election in many states.
“I’m not pleased about this 11th-hour development last night. Someone may have a price to pay for that.”
On Tuesday, Judge Sullivan had ordered inspectors to sweep facilities in 12 districts 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 key swing districts with low on-time delivery scores, including Central Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and Detroit.
The judge gave the agency until 3 p.m. to complete the sweeps, but the Postal Service said it would need until 8 p.m. to do the work without disrupting the processing of a flood of Election Day ballots.
On Wednesday morning, the Postal Service it had completed the sweeps, and that they turned up only a “relative handful of ballots” — about 12 or 13, according to a U.S. Department of Justice lawyer Joseph Borson, who is representing the Postal Service.
The judge’s dramatic Election Day order came as record numbers of Americans cast ballots by mail this year, with 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 Mr. DeJoy, a Trump appointee, had caused extensive mail delays that could imperil ballots.
“Why was it as of yesterday there were still ballots being delivered late?” Shankar Duraiswamy, the lead lawyer for the nonprofit coalition Vote Forward, which is suing the Postal Service to try to ensure all ballots are delivered, asked during Wednesday’s hearing.
He said the court must now focus on getting ballots to the 21 states in the country that accept ballots postmarked by or before Election Day in the days after the election.
“We’re very focused on the next set of deadlines,” he said.
Mr. Duraiswamy also asked the Postal Service to investigate a report he said he’d received about “boxes of ballots” sitting delayed in Greensboro, N.C.
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 that it wasn’t delivered. A machine scanning ballots for final processing can sometimes miss ballots that are stuck together or have smudged bar codes. 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.
The Postal Service said Wednesday morning said the agency had been conducting daily searches at all of its facilities for ballots that might fall through the cracks.
Republican women delivered critical victories to their party in the election, signaling the success of the party’s efforts to recruit and elect a more diverse slate of candidates to counter Democrats’ huge advantage in adding women to their ranks in Congress.
In battlegrounds across the country, conservative women scored upsets for House Republicans, with Ashley Hinson, a former state legislator and television reporter ousting Representative Abby Finkenauer of Iowa; Nancy Mace, the first woman to graduate from the Citadel, defeating Representative Joe Cunningham of South Carolina; and Yvette Herrell, a former state legislator, flipping Representative Xochitl Torres Small’s New Mexico seat.
Those wins came as Republicans fought to protect women incumbents in the Senate, where Joni Ernst of Iowa and Susan Collins of Maine prevailed in their competitive races and Kelly Loeffler advanced to a runoff in Georgia. By Wednesday morning, Democrats had only vanquished one Republican woman in the Senate, Martha McSally of Arizona, who had been expected to lose.
In past cycles, House Republicans had failed to recruit and elect women candidates. In 2018, as Democrats wrested control of the House with a diverse class of contenders, just one new Republican woman was elected to the chamber. That set off a scramble by party leaders to steal a page from the Democratic recruiting playbook, eschewing the kind of candidates they had previously turned to — white, male, often veterans of politics — in favor of political newcomers with diverse backgrounds.
Those efforts appeared to be paying off as Republicans clawed back a number of seats they had lost in 2018, and partial returns showed women leading Democratic incumbents in other competitive districts, like in Staten Island, where Representative Max Rose of New York was fighting to hold of Nicole Malliotakis.
“We flipped seats primarily with women and minority candidates,” Parker Hamilton Poling, the executive director of House Republicans’ campaign arm wrote on Twitter early Wednesday. “I’d call that a pretty good night.”
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.
While the outcome of the presidential race remains undecided, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has notched one clear milestone: He has collected more votes than his former running mate Barack Obama did in 2008, to set a new record for the popular vote.
Powered by the enormous turnout, Mr. Biden received more than 69,720,000 votes nationwide, exceeding the 69,498,516 collected by Mr. Obama in another year with enormous voter enthusiasm that held the record until this year.
Democrats are likely to point to the vote total as evidence that they continue to represent the majority of the country in presidential elections. They have won the popular vote in every presidential election since 2000 with the exception of 2004.
But there are some caveats: The population of the country has grown since 2008 from 304 million to more than 330 million people in 2020.
This means that Mr. Obama received the votes of a greater percentage of Americans — about 23 percent, to Mr. Biden’s 21 percent. Mr. Obama also drew a higher percentage of the country’s registered voters, 48 percent to Mr. Biden’s 44 percent.
While Mr. Obama was swept in with a clear majority of the popular vote, Mr. Biden, who served two terms as his vice president, is on track for a narrower margin in the nationwide results, reflecting a more divided electorate, said Rogers Smith, a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania
“This was an extraordinary election that appears to have spurred one of the highest turnouts in a century,” he said. “That means that both candidates are going to receive larger vote totals than they would have in the past.”
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.
WILMINGTON, Del. — Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Wednesday said it was “clear” that he would reach 270 electoral votes and win the presidency, though he stopped short of claiming victory.
“I’m not here to declare that we’ve won, but I am here to report that when the count is finished, we believe we will be the winners,” Mr. Biden said in a speech at an event center in Wilmington.
In his speech, he cited the turnout in Tuesday’s election and paid tribute to democracy. “Here, the people rule,” he said. “Power can’t be taken or asserted. It flows from the people. And it’s their will that determines who will be the president of the United States, and their will alone.”