The excruciatingly close U.S. presidential election hung in the balance on Wednesday, with a handful of closely contested states set to decide the outcome in the coming hours or days, even as President Donald Trump falsely claimed victory and made unsubstantiated allegations of electoral fraud.
Democratic challenger Joe Biden opened up narrow leads in Wisconsin and Michigan on Wednesday morning; according to Edison Research, as the two Midwestern battleground states that the Republican president won in 2016 continued to count mail-in ballots that surged amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Together with Nevada, another state where Biden held a small advantage with votes still left to be tallied, those states would deliver Biden the 270 votes needed in the state-by-state Electoral College to win the White House. But Trump still had a path to victory with those states officially undecided.
Opinion polls had given Biden a strong lead nationwide for months, but had shown tighter races in battleground states, and the vote did not produce the overwhelming verdict against Trump that Democrats had wanted.
In the nationwide popular vote, Biden on Wednesday was comfortably ahead of Trump, with 2.6 million more votes. Trump won the 2016 election over Democrat Hillary Clinton; after winning crucial battleground states even though she drew about 3 million more votes nationwide.
Biden, 77, said in the early hours he was confident of winning once the votes are counted, and urged patience.
“We feel good about where we are,” Biden said in his home state of Delaware. “We believe we’re on track to win this election.”
Trump, 74, appeared at the White House soon after to declare victory.
“We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election,” Trump said, before launching an extraordinary attack on the electoral process by a sitting president. “This is a major fraud on our nation. We want the law to be used in a proper manner. So we’ll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court. We want all voting to stop.”
Trump provided no evidence to back up his claim of fraud and did not explain how he would fight the results at the Supreme Court, which does not hear direct challenges.
Voting concluded as scheduled on Tuesday night, but many states routinely take days to finish counting ballots. Huge numbers of people voted by mail because of the pandemic, making it likely the count will take longer than usual.
The close election underscored the political polarization in the United States. The next president will take on a pandemic that has killed more than 231,000 Americans and left millions more jobless at a time not only of gaping political divisions but of racial tensions and differences between urban and rural Americans.
The trio of “blue wall” states that unexpectedly sent Trump to the White House in 2016 – Michigan; Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – remained too close to call. Officials in Nevada said they would not update the count until Thursday.
Two Southern states, Georgia and North Carolina, were also still in play; Trump held leads in both. A win for Biden in either one would narrow Trump’s chances considerably.
Biden’s victory in Arizona, which had previously voted for a Democratic presidential candidate only once in 72 years; so far remained the only state to flip from the 2016 results.
Trump’s most likely path requires him to win Pennsylvania as well as at least one Midwestern battleground and both Southern states.
Officials in Michigan and Georgia said on Wednesday they expected the states to complete their counts by day’s end. At the moment; Biden leads 224 to 213 over Trump in the Electoral College vote count; according to Edison Research, aiming to reach the needed 270 electoral votes, which are based in part on a state’s population.
World leaders were in limbo as they waited for clearer results, with most avoiding weighing in amid the uncertainty.
In global markets, investors moved to price a greater chance of U.S. policy gridlock.