With the winner of the presidency yet to be declared, attention shifted Thursday to a handful of states that remained too close to call but where, on balance, Joseph R. Biden Jr. seemed to have an advantage. President Trump’s campaign pressed ahead with lawsuits challenging the validity of the count in several states, and protests erupted in cities and outside some elections offices.
With Mr. Biden leading Mr. Trump in the popular vote by more than 3.8 million votes — which, if it holds, will make this the second election where Mr. Trump lost the popular vote — the attention of both campaigns was riveted on the handful of undecided states that will decide which candidate wins the electoral votes needed to win.
Mr. Biden was 17 electoral votes shy of reaching the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency, while Mr. Trump was 56 electoral votes away from the threshold. As results trickled in from the remaining undecided states Mr. Biden increased his lead in Nevada by about 4,000 votes and slowly eroded Mr. Trump’s leads in Georgia and Pennsylvania, while holding on to his modest lead in Arizona.
Both campaigns tried to project optimism, and asked for patience.
“Democracy is sometimes messy,” Mr. Biden told reporters Thursday in Wilmington, Del., where he called for every ballot to be counted. “It sometimes requires a little patience as well. But that patience has been rewarded now for more than 240 years with a system of governance that’s been the envy of the world.”
Mr. Trump’s campaign team said that it would likely be filing additional legal actions. Bill Stepien, the campaign manager, accused people of prematurely writing Mr. Trump off at various junctures since the 2016 presidential primaries.
“Donald Trump is alive and well,” he said.
Speaking a day earlier, Mr. Biden had stopped short of declaring victory, as Mr. Trump did prematurely on election night, and sought to strike a conciliatory note as he addressed the nation. But he also had something of a warning for the Trump team.
“Power can’t be taken or asserted,” he said. “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.”
Mr. Trump issued a written statement on Thursday afternoon through his campaign in which he made baseless claims that there could be fraud in the late votes, writing that “if you count the illegal and late votes, they can steal the election from us!” The statement, which was written in all capital letters, resembled one of his tweets — but by issuing it through the campaign, the president avoided getting a warning label from Twitter, which has flagged many of his recent tweets as potentially misleading.
With Mr. Trump’s political path growing more precarious, his team increasingly turned to the courts, filing lawsuits in several states and demanding a recount in Wisconsin. But judges in Georgia and Michigan ruled against his campaign, while it notched a modest win in a Pennsylvania case.
The Trump campaign’s bid to stave off defeat stretched to the Supreme Court, where it intervened in a case challenging Pennsylvania’s plan to count ballots received for up to three days after Election Day.
In a fraught moment for supporters of both candidates, the tensions occasionally started to spill into the streets.
Calling on election officials to “count every vote,” protesters marched through the streets of several American cities on Wednesday, with protests in Minneapolis, Seattle, Phoenix, Philadelphia, New York City and Portland, Ore.
At the same time, supporters of Mr. Trump descended on vote-counting facilities in several contested states. In Phoenix, about 150 pro-Trump protesters, some of them armed, gathered outside the county recorder’s office where a closely watched count of votes that could help determine the outcome of the election was being conducted.
And in Detroit, another group of pro-Trump poll watchers gathered earlier in the day outside a ballot-counting center, demanding that officials “stop the count” of ballots after the Trump campaign filed suit to halt the count in Michigan.
But inside, the democratic process continued to play out as election workers — socially distanced and wearing masks — went about their job: counting the votes.
WILMINGTON, Del. — Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Thursday urged Americans to be patient as votes were counted and said he and his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, had “no doubt” that they would ultimately prevail.
“It is the will of the voters, no one, not anything else, that chooses the president of the United States of America,” he said. “So, each ballot must be counted, and that’s what we’re going to see — going through now. And that’s how it should be.”
In a brief statement to reporters in Wilmington, Del., Mr. Biden continued: “Democracy is sometimes messy. It sometimes requires a little patience as well. But that patience has been rewarded now for more than 240 years with a system of governance that’s been the envy of the world.”
Mr. Biden spoke after he and Ms. Harris had received briefings on the coronavirus pandemic and the economy. Earlier in the day, Mr. Biden’s campaign manager, Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, expressed confidence that Mr. Biden would win the election, and Mr. Biden also predicted a victory.
“We have no doubt that when the count is finished, Senator Harris and I will be declared the winners,” he said. “So, I ask everyone to stay calm — all the people to stay calm. The process is working. The count is being completed, and we’ll know very soon.”
As the presidential race inches agonizingly toward a conclusion, it might be easy to miss the fact that the results are not actually very close.
With many ballots still outstanding in heavily Democratic cities, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. was leading President Trump by 3.8 million votes nationwide as of late afternoon Thursday. His lead will expand, probably substantially, as officials finish counting.
This means more Americans have voted for a Democrat for president than for a Republican in each of the past four elections, and seven of the past eight, the exception being 2004, when President George W. Bush beat John Kerry by about three million votes. But, depending on the outcome this year, only four or five times in those eight elections have they actually put one in the White House.
It looks likely that Mr. Biden will eke out an Electoral College win. But the narrowness of the result, in contrast to the fairly decisive preference of the American public, has intensified some Americans’ anger at a system in which a minority of people can often claim a majority of power.
“We look at a map of so-called red and blue states and treat that map as land and not people,” said Carol Anderson, a professor of African-American studies at Emory University who researches voter suppression. “I’ve been thinking about how hard folks have to work to be able to vote, what it takes to overcome all of this that voter suppression has put in place, and that someone could be ahead by three million votes — which is bigger than most cities and probably some states — and still we have what almost amounts to a nail-biter.”
Mr. Biden’s current vote margin is, in fact, larger than the populations of more than 20 states, and almost equal to the population of Los Angeles.
A similar disparity exists in the Senate, where the current Democratic minority was elected with more votes than the Republican majority and where by 2040, based on population projections, about 70 percent of Americans will be represented by 30 percent of senators.
“It’s not that the states that are represented by the 30 percent are all red, but what we do know is that the states that are going to have 70 senators are in no way representative of the diversity in the country,” said Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “The more this happens, the more you get the sense that voters don’t have a say in the choice of their leaders. And you cannot have a democracy over a period of time that survives if a majority of people believe that their franchise is meaningless.”
WASHINGTON — The White House says it wants a “James Baker-like” figure to lead its postelection battle to somehow find a way to win a second term. But the real James Baker says the White House should stop trying to stop the votes from being counted.
Mr. Baker, the former secretary of state who led the legal and political team during the Florida recount battle in 2000 that secured the presidency for George W. Bush, said in an interview on Thursday that President Trump may have legitimate issues to pursue but they should not be used to justify a halt to the initial tabulation of ballots.
“We never said don’t count the votes,” Mr. Baker said. “That’s a very hard decision to defend in a democracy.”
Mr. Baker’s comments came shortly after Mr. Trump posted a message on Twitter demanding “STOP THE COUNT,” in keeping with his assault on the election results before they were even in. The president went before television cameras early on Wednesday morning to characterize the routine counting of votes as somehow an effort to steal the election.
In 2000 Mr. Bush and Al Gore, the Democratic candidate, only started their legal fight after the votes in Florida were initially counted. Mr. Bush finished election night with a lead of 1,784 votes out of some 6 million cast in the state that would determine which candidate would win the Electoral College. Because the margin was so small, an automatic machine recount was then conducted, upholding Mr. Bush’s lead. After signs that some valid votes had not been counted, Mr. Gore’s team went to court asking for hand recounts in four heavily Democratic counties while Mr. Baker argued that the votes did not need to be counted again.
By the time the Supreme Court halted any further recounts more than a month later, on the grounds that different counties were applying different standards in determining which ballots should be deemed valid, Mr. Bush’s lead had been pared to just 537, still enough to hold onto Florida’s electoral votes.
“There are huge differences,” Mr. Baker said of the Florida battle and the brewing fights over this week’s election. “For one thing, our whole argument was that the votes have been counted and they’ve been counted and they’ve been counted and it’s time to end the process. That’s not exactly the message that I heard on election night. And so I think it’s pretty hard to be against counting the votes.”
As an example, he disapproved of the Republican effort to throw out 127,000 votes in his hometown, Houston, because they were cast through a drive-by system that the party objected to. “I didn’t think that was a particularly wise thing to do and as it turns out it wasn’t wise legally because they’ve lost in state court and in federal court,” he said.
Mr. Baker, who has not publicly endorsed Mr. Trump and has been sharply critical at times but personally voted for him, said the president had every right to challenge results after they have been counted if there are legitimate grounds to question their validity.
Mr. Baker does agree that Mr. Trump should find someone like Mr. Baker to serve as a field marshal. “Message discipline,” he said, “is particularly important in something like this.” But at age 90, he is ready for it to be someone else.
With votes in a handful of states still being tallied Thursday afternoon, Joseph R. Biden Jr. was 17 electoral votes shy of reaching the 270 Electoral College votes that he will need to win the election, while President Trump needed to win 56 more electoral votes.
Mr. Biden had more paths to victory open to him: 27 different combinations of the remaining states would give the presidency, while only four different combinations would re-elect Mr. Trump (and one path would result in a tie).
Here is the state of play in the race in the remaining battleground states as of 3:10 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.
Electoral votes: 16
Trump leads Biden, 49.5 percent to 49.2 percent, with more than 95 percent of the estimated vote in.
Gap: about 13,000 votes.
Keep in mind: Georgia still has about 47,000 ballots remaining to be counted, an official with the secretary of state’s office said Thursday afternoon. Most are in Democratic-leaning counties. The state aims to finish its count by the end of the day.
Electoral votes: 20
Trump leads Biden, 50.2 percent to 48.5 percent, with about 92 percent of the estimated vote in.
Gap: about 98,000 votes.
Keep in mind: Pennsylvania’s secretary of state said Thursday afternoon that about 550,000 ballots remained to be counted and that she hoped a winner could be announced by the end of the day. Most of the votes yet to be counted are in counties where Mr. Biden is ahead, including Philadelphia, the state’s most populous county, where Mr. Biden leads by about 61 percentage points. But plenty of votes are outstanding in dozens of Trump-leaning counties. Mr. Biden needs to win nearly two-thirds of the remaining votes to win the state. The vote tally is being continually updated.
Electoral votes: 6
Biden leads Trump, 49.5 percent to 48.5 percent, with 87 percent of the estimated vote in.
Gap: about 11,000 votes.
Keep in mind: All of the Election Day vote has been counted, leaving only Democratic-leaning late mail and provisional ballots to be tabulated. Vote totals are being continually updated. The registrar in Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, said the county would release the next batch of votes around noon E.T. on Friday. Remaining votes include mail and provisional ballots.
Electoral votes: 11
Biden leads Trump, 50.5 percent to 48.1 percent, with 86 percent of the estimated vote in.
Gap: about 68,000 votes.
To keep in mind: Mr. Trump needs to win about 60 percent of the remaining votes to capture the state. More results are expected to be released Thursday night.
Electoral votes: 15
Trump leads Biden, 50.1 percent to 48.7 percent, with 95 percent of the estimated vote in.
Gap: about 77,000 votes.
Keep in mind: With most votes now tabulated, Mr. Biden would need to win about two-thirds of the remainder to pull ahead. Mail ballots postmarked by Election Day will be accepted until Thursday, Nov. 12.
PHILADELPHIA — With much of the presidential race hinging on the outcome in Pennsylvania, the state’s top election official said that she expected an overwhelming majority of the 550,000 remaining votes to be tallied by Thursday and that a state winner “definitely could” be announced by the end of the day.
President Trump’s lead in the state over Joseph R. Biden Jr. has dwindled since Wednesday from more than 10 percentage points to less than two points, with fewer than 110,000 votes now separating the candidates. If Mr. Biden wins the state, he wins the presidency.
“Counties are furiously at work and it is looking like we’re ahead of schedule,” Kathy Boockvar, Pennsylvania’s secretary of state, told CNN.
Ms. Boockvar said that most of the outstanding ballots were from denser population centers, including Philadelphia and its suburban counties, and Allegheny County, which is home to Pittsburgh.
Ms. Boockvar said that though Philadelphia temporarily paused its counting on Thursday because of some legal filings, it was quickly resumed. Officials in the city convention center are continuing to work on the roughly 100,000 ballots left to count in the city.
The Trump campaign has filed multiple lawsuits in Pennsylvania, including one seeking to allow election observers closer access to election workers in Philadelphia, which a judge granted on Thursday morning. The Trump campaign also filed a motion to intervene in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, challenging a rule in the state that allows ballots that are postmarked by Election Day but arrive up to three days later to still be counted.
But Ms. Boockvar said that election officials were not seeing a large influx of late-arriving ballots, and did not anticipate they would have an impact on the final tally.
“Counties are reporting anywhere, from some smaller counties are reporting anywhere from 0 to some of the larger counties have reported about 500 received the day after Election Day,” said Ms. Boockvar.
“Unless it is super close,” she added, “I don’t see them making this or breaking this one way or another. But in the meantime, we are going to be counting every ballot.”
President Trump, whose campaign has filed lawsuits in several states questioning the integrity of the vote count and seeking to slow down the process, suffered a pair of legal setbacks Thursday when judges in Georgia and Michigan ruled against his campaign.
But the campaign notched a minor victory in Pennsylvania when a state appellate court acceded to its request to force Philadelphia election officials to grant its election observers better access to areas where workers are counting ballots.
Here was how the president’s re-election campaign was faring in the courts:
In Georgia, where Mr. Trump’s lead over Joseph R. Biden Jr. is shrinking, a superior court judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Trump campaign and the state Republican Party alleging that at least 53 ballots were potentially accepted after a 7 p.m. Election Day deadline by officials in Chatham County, home to Democratic-leaning Savannah. The judge, James F. Bass Jr., wrote that there was “no evidence” that the ballots were received late. Georgia’s Republican Party has said it plans to bring up to a dozen lawsuits in the state.
In Michigan, where news organizations projected Mr. Biden the winner on Wednesday, a judge denied a request by the Trump campaign to halt the counting of absentee ballots so that Republican challengers could be given what it called “meaningful access” to the absentee counting boards. Challengers were allowed to observe the process throughout the state, but in some locations their numbers were limited to follow social-distancing guidelines. A Court of Claims judge, Cynthia Stephens, noted that the lawsuit had been filed Wednesday afternoon, long after the count had begun, adding that “the essence of the count is completed.”
In Pennsylvania, where Mr. Biden was eroding Mr. Trump’s early lead as more votes were counted, a judge handed the Trump campaign a victory, forcing Philadelphia elections officials to allow Republican observers to watch the count from six feet away. They had previously been kept roughly 20 feet away from workers at the main Philadelphia canvassing area. “We don’t care if your observers are 18 feet away or 15 feet away or 6 feet away,’’ a Biden spokesman, Bill Russo, wrote on Twitter. “As long as election officials can do their job.” Still, Democrats appealed the decision, indicating that they believed the Trump campaign was trying to use closer access to slow the count in Philadelphia — a Democratic stronghold pivotal to Mr. Biden bid to capture the state, and with it the presidency — with protests in the counting room and more lawsuits.
Democrats’ sputtering hopes of reclaiming the Senate are on the edge of getting a boost, as Senator David Perdue, the Republican incumbent in Georgia, could be forced into a runoff with his Democratic challenger if his vote share falls any lower as the state’s final votes are counted.
As of Thursday afternoon, with more than 95 percent of the votes counted, Mr. Perdue had just under 50 percent of the vote against Jon Ossoff, who had 47.7 percent. Under Georgia law, if Mr. Perdue finishes below 50 percent, he’ll face Mr. Ossoff in a one-on-one vote in January.
The Ossoff campaign said Thursday that the race was on track to require a runoff. “We are confident that Jon Ossoff’s historic performance in Georgia has forced Senator David Perdue to continue defending his indefensible record of unemployment, disease, and corruption,” Mr. Ossoff’s campaign manager, Ellen Foster, said in a statement.
Mr. Perdue’s campaign manager, Ben Fry, said in a statement that if “overtime is required when all of the votes have been counted, we’re ready, and we will win.”
There will already be one runoff election in Georgia: Senator Kelly Loeffler, a Republican, will face the Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat.
On Wednesday, Mr. Warnock shared a pre-emptive video parodying the attacks he expects Ms. Loeffler to launch against him. The ad claims Mr. Warnock hates puppies and eats pizza with a fork and knife. “Get ready Georgia, the negative ads are coming,” Mr. Warnock said.
Get ready Georgia. The negative ads against us are coming.
But that won’t stop us from fighting for a better future for Georgians and focusing on the issues that matter. pic.twitter.com/VN0YIA02MG
— Reverend Raphael Warnock (@ReverendWarnock) November 5, 2020
If Democrats were able to win both seats, and if Joseph R. Biden, Jr. wins the presidency, they would have the 50 senators needed to usher through judicial and cabinet appointments, and enact a Democratic agenda. If Republicans maintain control, they could exert their power to block the priorities of a Biden administration.
If President Trump prevails, the Democrats would need to achieve the enormously difficult feat of winning both Georgia seats and the North Carolina seat held by Senator Thom Tillis, who is nearly two percentage points ahead of his Democratic challenger, Cal Cunningham, with 94 percent of the votes tallied. The extra seat would be required because the vice president casts the tie-breaking vote in the Senate. Mr. Tillis has already declared victory.
Though Democrats flipped Republican-held seats in Colorado and Arizona, they lost one in Alabama and failed to capture seats in several other states in which they invested enormous sums of money.
But a second Georgia runoff would extend their hopes through January, and focus the nation’s attention squarely on the Peach State. Georgia election officials are expected to release additional vote totals Thursday morning.
ATLANTA — President Trump’s lead in Georgia over Joseph R. Biden Jr. shrank to less than 10,000 votes Thursday afternoon, as election workers scrambled to tally the last 47,000 absentee ballots.
“I am prayerful that we can get to a resolution by the end of the day,” Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s statewide voting system implementation manager, said at a news conference at the State Capitol.
Many of the uncounted votes were in counties that lean Democratic, including the suburbs of Atlanta and the county that includes Savannah.
Mr. Trump’s lead over Mr. Biden had dwindled to 0.2 percent. Mr. Sterling said that a recount, which could be requested if the margin was less than half a percentage point, was likely. He took exception at Mr. Trump’s baseless claims that his lead had eroded because of voter fraud.
“The effort here is to make sure that everybody’s legal vote is counted properly,” Mr. Sterling said.
He said the state would also have to process an unknown number of overseas, military and provisional ballots. About 9,000 ballots that had been requested by members of the military and voters overseas had yet to be returned to the state, which has a deadline of 5 p.m. on Friday for counting those ballots. “The election is not over just on the absentee ballots,” Mr. Sterling said.
A lawsuit filed by the Trump campaign and the State Republican Party challenging the Georgia returns was dismissed on Thursday by a superior court judge. The lawsuit had alleged that absentee ballots that arrived after the election night deadline were wrongly counted in Savannah. State G.O.P. officials said they planned to file up to a dozen suits.
Early Thursday afternoon, election workers at State Farm Arena in Atlanta burst into applause as they finished processing the last of 145,748 mail-in ballots for Fulton County, home to most of Atlanta.
But they were not done. More than 3,600 provisional ballots in the county remained unprocessed, along with any outstanding military and overseas ballots. Outside of the arena, which is home to the National Basketball Association’s Atlanta Hawks, a group of the president’s supporters, some of whom were armed, protested the ongoing counting.
Joseph R. Biden Jr. widened his slender lead over President Trump in Nevada on Thursday from about 8,000 votes to about 11,000 votes as another tranche of ballots were counted, election officials announced. Mr. Biden now leads Mr. Trump by one percentage point.
Nevada has six electoral votes and its entire Election Day vote has been counted; the late mail and provisional ballots that remain lean Democratic. About 13 percent of the state’s votes have yet to be tabulated.
But the final results might not be made public until Saturday or Sunday, said Joe Gloria, elections registrar in Clark County, home to Las Vegas, during a news conference at his headquarters. His staff will began to tabulate 63,262 drop-off, mail-in and provisional ballots on Friday, and likely will not release the results for a day or two, Mr. Gloria told reporters.
“Our goal is not to act fast,” but to accurately count the votes, he said to audible groaning in the room.
Mr. Gloria said he had beefed up security amid threats to his staff, adding, “We will not allow anyone to stop us from doing what our duty is.”
A key question is whether Mr. Trump can close Mr. Biden’s current lead of eight percentage points in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas and most of Nevada’s population. In 2016, Hillary Clinton carried that county by 10.7 percentage points.
The Trump campaign has already identified Nevada, which allows any losing candidate to request a recount, as one of the battleground states where it plans to use the courts and procedural maneuvers to stave off defeat in the Electoral College. Less than 24 hours before Election Day, a Nevada judge rejected a lawsuit filed by Republicans who had tried to stop early vote counting in Clark County.
Nevada’s attorney general, Aaron Ford, a Democrat, told CNN late Wednesday that the state was prepared to rebuff the Trump campaign’s offensive.
“We think it’s pretty impenetrable when it comes to legal challenge against us,” Mr. Ford said.
Tensions are running high in the state.
A news briefing by the Clark County registrar, Joe Gloria, on Wednesday afternoon was briefly interrupted by a man who jumped in front of cameras and repeatedly yelled: “The Biden crime family is stealing this election! The media is covering it up!”
After the man — who was wearing a tank top that proclaimed, “Barbecue, Beer, Freedom” — was escorted away, Mr. Gloria said his staff had removed an unspecified number of election observers from counting facilities for being disruptive.
Few political observers expected Nevada to be a key state in the 2020 presidential race.
Four years ago, Hillary Clinton beat Mr. Trump there by 2.4 percentage points, or about 27,000 votes. Democrats had pegged that as the tipping point to her nationwide victory — until she lost several traditionally blue states in the Midwest.
Since then, Nevada has turned a deeper shade of blue, with Democrats controlling the governor’s office and legislature, both Senate seats and all but one House seat. It was not widely expected to be a battleground state this year.
But while recent polls consistently showed Mr. Biden ahead of President Trump in Nevada, Democrats worried that the pandemic would make it difficult to create a robust election turnout operation. The state has reported more than 104,000 coronavirus cases.
PHOENIX, Ariz. — Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has maintained a steady but slightly narrowing lead in Arizona vote tallies after Election Day, with Latino voters lining up behind the former vice president in a state that President Trump won by three and a half percentage points in 2016.
As of Thursday afternoon, Mr. Biden led Mr. Trump in Arizona by about 68,000 votes, or less than three percentage points. In the votes so far from Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, Mr. Biden leads by five percentage points, with about 5 percent of the total vote still outstanding.
More results from the state are expected to be released Thursday night.
Even Mr. Biden’s narrow edge underscored a profound political shift in Arizona, a longtime Republican bastion that has lurched left in recent years, fueled by rapidly evolving demographics and a growing contingent of young Latino voters who favor liberal policies.
The count was delayed in the early hours of Thursday, as dozens of Trump supporters demonstrated outside the Maricopa County election office where the votes were being counted.
In one of the brightest spots for Democrats so far, the former astronaut Mark Kelly defeated the state’s Republican senator, Martha McSally, in a special election, making Mr. Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema the first pair of Democrats to represent Arizona in the Senate since the 1950s.
Winning Arizona would give Mr. Biden an additional path to victory that wouldn’t require Pennsylvania, where final results aren’t expected today. If Mr. Biden won Arizona and held on to a tight lead in Nevada, he could lose Pennsylvania and still reach the 270 electoral votes needed for the presidency.