Joe Biden confidently predicted he would defeat U.S. President Donald Trump, even as the candidates remained deadlocked in the vote count with the possibility of a protracted court battle over the results.
The unprecedented election amid a once-in-a-century pandemic saw a surge of mail-in votes, believed to favour Mr. Biden, and a jump in turnout that led some states to predict they would not finish tallying ballots until the end of the week.
While Mr. Biden called for all votes to be counted, Mr. Trump falsely claimed unspecified “fraud” was being perpetrated on the election and threatened to ask the Supreme Court to stop states from finishing their ballot counts.
Three states in the Rust Belt that were key to Mr. Trump’s narrow 2016 victory – Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin – again looked likely to decide the election, but Pennsylvania and Michigan still had millions of ballots left to tally between them early Wednesday.
The Associated Press and CNN called Wisconsin for Biden after election officials in the state said all outstanding ballots had been counted, save for a few hundred in one township and an expected small number of provisional ballots.
The Democratic challenger was also battling to wrest Arizona and Georgia from the Republican incumbent. Mr. Trump, meanwhile, gave Mr. Biden an unexpectedly close race in Nevada. Cities that are expected to break heavily for Mr. Biden, including Philadelphia, Detroit and Atlanta, were particularly behind in counting votes.
Mr. Biden’s hopes for a landslide, which some pre-election polls had suggested, quickly evaporated as Mr. Trump held on to populous states such as Florida, Texas and Ohio. But Mr. Biden said he was confident that he would win Pennsylvania and enough other outstanding states to reach the 270 electoral college vote threshold necessary to secure the White House.
“I’m here to tell you tonight: We believe we’re on track to win this election,” Mr. Biden, flanked by his wife, told a drive-in rally in his home city of Wilmington, Delaware after midnight. “It ain’t over until every ballot is counted…we’re gonna win this.”
The election has already been riven with partisan battles over access to the polls, widespread accusations of voter suppression and sometimes violent confrontations between supporters of the two candidates.
U.S. voters faced two starkly different visions for the future of the world’s most powerful country in one of the most consequential elections in its history.
Mr. Biden painted the President as an incompetent, racist authoritarian, to blame for mishandling COVID-19 and stoking racial unrest. About 9.5 million Americans have fallen ill during the pandemic and nearly 240,000 have died, the most of any country.
The President, for his part, repeatedly derided anti-racism protesters as “terrorists” and a “mob,” and warned that the suburbs must be protected from low-income housing. He accused the centrist Mr. Biden of being a radical leftist.
If the results remain close, the election may be settled by a series of legal battles. The Republicans are already trying to have some ballots in Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County, a suburb of Philadelphia, voided after officials there allowed voters who made mistakes on their ballots to redo them.
Mr. Trump’s party has also signaled it may try again to invalidate all absentee votes that arrive at elections offices in Pennsylvania after election day. Currently, the state plans to count votes that arrive up to three days late.
At the White House early Wednesday, the President claimed he had already won the election even as millions of votes remained uncounted. He also said he would have the Supreme Court intervene, and that “we want all voting to stop,” even though all voting has stopped and the only thing happening now is the tallying of votes. Several states plan to count ballots that arrive at elections offices after election day, but all of those ballots were cast before the polls closed.
“This is a fraud on the American public. This is an embarrassment to our country,” Mr. Trump said of the normal democratic process of counting ballots to determine an election winner.
The result must be settled by Dec. 14, when members of the Electoral College gather to formally choose the president. The outcome might come down to the Supreme Court, which has a six-to-three conservative majority, after Mr. Trump appointed Amy Coney Barrett to the bench just weeks before the election.
The fight will be an extension of a battle over voting rules that has been playing out since the start of the pandemic. The Democrats have tried to expand options for voting during the pandemic, while the Republicans have often opposed them, and the courts have intervened several times already.
Postmaster-General and Republican megadonor Louis DeJoy also made cutbacks to the post office that have slowed mail service by weeks. In some cases, such as Wisconsin, Republican laws also cut back the number of days allowed for early voting. Mr. Trump claimed, without evidence, that mail-in voting had to be curbed to prevent mass voter fraud. A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the postal service to make an emergency check of facilities in 10 states for delayed ballots and immediately deliver them to elections authorities.
The Democrats encouraged supporters to vote by mail or in-person early. The Republicans pushed for voters to cast their ballots on election day.
In places, there were even fights at voting locations. Mr. Trump and the Republicans dispatched supporters to serve as “poll watchers,” to confront Democratic voters in the name of fighting voter fraud.
In Bensalem, Pa., a Philadelphia suburb, Trump supporter David Gay said he hoped the President would use military force to put down unrest from the other side of the political spectrum.
“With President Trump there, he’d fix it in 45 minutes with our National Guard,” said Mr. Gay, 59, who joked that he would personally help local law enforcement stop protesters from crossing the creek that separates the city from his suburb. “Between me and Bensalem Police, we won’t let them get across.”
Mr. Biden sold himself as a conciliatory figure, able to bridge the divides of a fractious country after four years of non-stop political brawling. He tried to assemble a broad voting coalition, joining Black and Latino Americans, young people, suburban women and senior citizens to compete with Mr. Trump’s overwhelmingly white base. For his running mate, he chose Kamala Harris, a centrist California senator with an Indian-born mother and Jamaican-born father, who grew up partly in Montreal.
At a polling station in a west Philadelphia community centre, voters said there was far more motivation to go to the polls this time than in 2016, when few believed Mr. Trump could actually win. Boosting turnout in Black neighbourhoods such as this was a key component of Mr. Biden’s strategy. The fatal police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr., a Black man, a few blocks from here last week only reinforced the racial stakes of the election.
“The last four years, people have witnessed the consequences of not voting,” said Joe Bowman, 28, who organized a group of friends to hand out donated food and water outside the polling site, and performed on the sidewalk with his band to entertain people waiting in line to cast ballots. “Police brutality has been around since before Trump came to office, but he puts a spotlight on it.”