Here's Where Things Stand in the 5 States That Will Pick the President

You’re awake. Great. Welcome to Day Two of vote-counting in the 2020 presidential race.

You want to know where the race stands, what states are still up for grabs, and how this nail-biter of an election might play out. Right now, it looks like the race will come down to five states that are still up for grabs: Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia, and North Carolina.

Let’s start with the latter two.

Georgia and North Carolina

These Sunbelt states were never pivotal to former Vice President Joe Biden’s path to 270 electoral votes. But going into election night, there were hopes that Biden might take one or both of these contests on his way to a massive, Trumpism-repudiating landslide. Public polls had shown him and down-ballot Democratic candidates tied or ahead in North Carolina, while progressive activists hoped that Biden and a pair of competitive U.S. Senate races in Georgia could build on the massive voter turnout seen in the 2018 gubernatorial race between Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams.

By Wednesday morning, the Associated Press had not called either state. In Georgia, Trump has opened up a lead of more than 300,000 votes. But here’s the catch: The densely populated counties in and around Atlanta, the state’s largest city, have yet to report most of their ballots. Part of the reason for the delay was a burst pipe in Atlanta’s State Farm arena that had disrupted the ballot processing process. According to reporting in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, no ballots were damaged but it did mean that Fulton County, where Atlanta is located, wouldn’t report a near-complete vote tally until sometime on Wednesday.

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Does Biden stand a chance in Georgia? He does when you consider most of the remaining ballots are coming from those heavily Democratic Atlanta-area counties. Still, with 81 percent of the vote already in, Biden needs to dominate the remaining ballots left to be counted in Georgia to eke out a victory in a state no Democratic presidential nominee has won since Bill Clinton 1992. Winning Georgia’s 16 electoral votes would shake up the map and dramatically boost Biden’s chances of winning the presidency.

In North Carolina, President Trump holds a slim lead of just 76,000 votes. Can Biden make up the difference? It doesn’t look likely. While the few counties left still to report votes lean Democratic, it’s hard to see Biden winning enough of those ballots to make up the difference between him and Trump and so claim the state’s 15 electoral votes.

Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin

In an only-in-2020 twist, the trio of states that have always represented Joe Biden’s clearest path to 270 electoral votes also happen to be the three states we’ve always known would take the longest to report their full election results.

There are two reasons for this: the volume of ballots and the vagaries of local election law. All three states expected to process millions of mail-in ballots this year. At 2 a.m. ET, with 88% of precincts reporting in Wisconsin, Biden was trailing Donald Trump by roughly 100,000 votes. But more than 1.9 million voters statewide had returned absentee ballots that we still being tabulated early into Wednesday morning. The county clerk in Wisconsin’s most populous county, said that Milwaukee, an expected stronghold Biden, might be processing ballots until 6 a.m.

Meanwhile, in Michigan, where Trump led by an even larger 400,000-odd-vote margin with 66 percent of precincts reporting, the count could take even longer. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who previously said her state’s count might not be available until Friday, revised that estimate downwards after the polls closed on election night. On Tuesday evening, Benson said that the state’s 3.2 million absentee ballots were being tabulated faster than expected, and results could be available as soon as Wednesday.

And in Pennsylvania — Joe Biden’s home state, the state most likely to make or break his White House dreams, and the state where Biden was trailing by more than 700,000 votes with 64 percent of precincts reporting on election night — counties are legally forbidden from beginning vote counting before election day. Ballots can be received up until Friday, as long as they were postmarked by election day.

When will we have a final result?

We wait until these five states have finished their full vote counts. Based on what election officials have said in each of these states, we should have a clear picture of how the race stands and who the next president might be in the next day or two.

The wildcard here, of course, is whether lawyers on the Democratic or Republican sides decide to challenge the final vote counts in court. Over the weekend, Trump said that as soon as the election is over, “we’re going in with our lawyers.”

Pennsylvania, for instance, has seen a torrent of litigation filed by Democratic and Republican lawyers over everything from the use of ballot dropboxes to poll watcher eligibility requirements to, most crucially of all, to whether election clerks can accept mail-in ballots received after the polls close on Election Day. (After a drawn-out court battle, a judge ruled that they can accept ballots until Friday that are properly postmarked.)

If the lawsuits start flying, it could delay the final result of the presidential race for days and possibly weeks. By then, American democracy could be in uncharted territory.

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