Election worker Kristen Mun from Portland empties ballots from a ballot box at the Multnomah County Elections Division.
Election worker Kristen Mun from Portland empties ballots from a ballot box at the Multnomah County Elections Division, Nov. 3, 3030 in Portland, Ore.

The winner of the U.S. presidential election remained in doubt Wednesday, with the outcome hinging on a handful of states where a flood of mail-in ballots sparked by the coronavirus pandemic remained to be counted. 

President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden both won states they were expected to win in their bid for a majority in the Electoral College that determines who wins the presidency in the country’s indirect form of democracy.   

But the outcome of contests in several states – North Carolina, Georgia and Pennsylvania in the eastern part of the country, Michigan and Wisconsin in the Midwest and Arizona in the Southwest -- were unsettled as officials counted millions of votes, some that were cast on Tuesday and many more during weeks of early voting.


Despite the uncertainty, Trump appeared before cameras at the White House early Wednesday to declare that he believed he had won and said he would go to the Supreme Court to try to have the counting halted.    

“This is a major fraud on our nation,” Trump contended, adding, “As far as I’m concerned, I already have” won. 

The Biden campaign called the president’s vow to shut down the counting of ballots an “outrageous” effort to take away the democratic rights of American citizens who chose to cast their ballots before Election Day.

Earlier, Biden addressed his own supporters in his home city of Wilmington, Delaware, to thank them and express confidence he would prevail.  

“Keep the faith guys, we’re going to win this,” Biden told cheering supporters near his home in Wilmington, Delaware, as they honked car horns.     

But as vote counting continued in several key states where he trailed Trump, Biden warned, “We’re going to have to be patient.”

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to supporters, Nov. 4, 2020, in Wilmington, Del.

Vote Counting 

Oddly, Trump called for ending the election even as he trailed Biden in the Electoral College vote count, 224-213, with a majority of 270 in the 538-member Electoral College needed to claim a new presidential term starting Jan. 20.   

 

The national winner is determined by the outcome in each of the 50 states and the national capital city of Washington, with each state winner collecting all the state’s electoral votes except in two lightly populated states where the winners in individual congressional districts come into play. The most populous states have the most electoral votes and the most sway in the Electoral College.  

Trump had told confidants in recent days that he would declare victory if he felt he was “ahead.”   

"I think it's a terrible thing when ballots can be collected after an election,” he told reporters on Sunday. “I think it's a terrible thing when states are allowed to tabulate ballots for a long period of time after the election is over."    

Trump’s running mate, Vice President Mike Pence, said Republicans were determined to “protect the vote” but did not echo Trump in saying they had already won.

“It's going to be a fight to the end,” said La Trice Washington, a political scientist at Otterbein University in Ohio.   

President Donald Trump speaks in the East Room of the White House, Nov. 4, 2020, in Washington.

The Biden campaign later called the president’s vow to shut down the counting of ballots an “outrageous” effort to take away the democratic rights of American citizens who chose to cast their ballots before Election Day.

Oddly, Trump called for ending the election even as he trailed Biden in the Electoral College vote count, 220-213, with a majority of 270 in the 538-member Electoral College needed to claim a new presidential term starting Jan. 20.  

Trump had told confidants in recent days that he would declare victory if he felt he was “ahead.” 

"I think it's a terrible thing when ballots can be collected after an election,” he told reporters on Sunday. “I think it's a terrible thing when states are allowed to tabulate ballots for a long period of time after the election is over."

Trump’s running mate, Vice President Mike Pence, said Republicans were determined to “protect the vote” but did not echo Trump in saying they had already won.

WATCH: Americans cast their votes

Latest Developments

  • Democrats were on track, as expected, to retain their majority control of the House of Representatives. But continued Republican control of the Senate was uncertain with the outcome of several Senate elections throughout the country undecided.
  • Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate majority leader, won his seventh six-year term.   
  • According to an Edison Research voter exit poll, Trump improved his standing with every race and gender except white men, compared with his showing in 2016 when he defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.     
  •  The FBI said it was investigating reports of robocalls discouraging people from voting in some states. But there were no signs of large-scale conflict at polls as some had feared.       
  • Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told reporters Tuesday there is “no indication” that a “foreign actor” has successfully interfered in the election.
     
    Voters wait in line to enter a polling station in Racine, Wisconsin, Nov. 3, 2020.

    Large turnout

    Tens of millions of people stood in lines across the country throughout the day to cast their ballots on Election Day. More than 101 million other people voted early in recent weeks, partly to avoid coming face to face with others amid the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.      

    The early vote in the waning weeks of the 2020 election amounted to more than two-thirds of the entire vote count in the 2016 election when Trump defeated Hillary Clinton to win the White House.    

    With the heavy early voting, the total 2020 vote count, by some estimates, could reach a U.S. record of 150 million or more. But with state-by-state laws controlling how soon the absentee votes can be counted — not until Tuesday night or later in some states — the outcome of the election may not be known for days.      

    The presidential election is coming after a rancorous and combative campaign, with both Trump and Biden lobbing taunts, claiming the other is unfit to lead the country and would take it to ruination.       

    Last weekend, tensions mounted as thousands of Trump campaign supporters rallied and demonstrated throughout the country; in one case a caravan of vehicles with Trump flags in Texas surrounded a Biden campaign bus and, according to some accounts, tried to force it off a highway.     

    Authorities and merchants in some cities, including New York, Detroit and Washington near the White House, have boarded up storefronts to prevent potential damage and looting in the event election-related violence erupts.     

    Many of the early voters — two-thirds of whom mailed in ballots while the rest cast votes in person — said they wanted to avoid coming face to face Tuesday with other people in long lines at polling stations, as the U.S. on some recent days has recorded more than 90,000 new coronavirus cases.      

    Some Democrats said they wanted to be among the first to vote against Trump, while many Republicans said they planned to vote in person on the official presidential Election Day — the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November — as has been the norm in U.S. elections every four years since the mid-1800s.     

    Voters are choosing between two septuagenarians, both older than most the country’s 328 million citizens. Biden will be 78 by Inauguration Day on January 20, while Trump is 74. Whoever wins will be the oldest U.S. leader ever.      

    In addition, voters are choosing all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 35 of the 100 seats in the Senate.       

    Electoral voting    

    National polls have for weeks shown Biden leading Trump nationally by an average of 7 or 8 percentage points, but only by about half that margin or less in key battleground states that are likely to determine the outcome.